Sun, Sep 21, 2014 - Page 5 News List

Australia to tighten anti-terror laws

SWEEPING POWERS:The Australian prime minister said that the existing laws were inadequate, and that flexible legislation was needed to deal with increased threat levels

AFP, SYDNEY

Australia’s government is to introduce tough new legislation to parliament next week aimed at tackling the growing threat of terrorism, reports said yesterday, in the aftermath of the biggest crackdown in the country’s history.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott is to seek sweeping counter-terrorism powers when the proposals go before the house on Wednesday, NewsCorp Australia reported.

Thursday’s unprecedented raids in Sydney and Brisbane had foiled a plot by Islamic State militants to carry out gruesome “demonstration executions” that could have taken place within days, Abbott said.

Australian Justice Minister Michael Keenan said that the new laws would “modernize” existing legislation to counter such threats.

“The threat of the random act of violence that was acted upon on Thursday’s raids is obviously quite different to the sorts of traditional terrorist activity that we might have been targeting,” Keenan told the Australian Broadcasting Corp yesterday. “We need to make sure that we’ve got a regime in Australia that’s modern and flexible.”

Security has been stepped up in the capital, Canberra, and at military bases, airports and sporting events after parliament and government officials had been mentioned as potential targets in “chatter” between extremist networks in the Middle East and Australia.

Fifteen people were arrested when hundreds of police officers raided dozens of homes in Sydney and Brisbane on Thursday, but only one person remained in custody yesterday, officials said.

Omarjan Azari, 22, was charged with planning a terrorist act which prosecutors said was intended to “shock, horrify and terrify” the community and involved the “random selection of persons to rather gruesomely execute” on camera.

Federal police had for the first time used preventive detention orders to hold three of the 15 without charge, the Australian Broadcasting Corp reported. The men were released on Friday.

The orders are designed to counter an imminent threat of attack and can be used to hold people for as long as 14 days.

However, Abbott says current legislation is inadequate to fight the threats to Australia from groups such as the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which he has described as the nation’s greatest national security challenge.

Under the new powers, advocating a terrorist act would become illegal, the Weekend Australian reported. The new offense is to carry a maximum five-year jail sentence and make it illegal for an individual to intentionally counsel, promote, encourage or urge a terrorist act, the newspaper said.

Police are also to be given powers to secretly search the homes of suspects.

The government plans to seek powers to proscribe visits to cities or regions where terror groups are active and those traveling to such areas without a valid reason could face prosecution.

“There’s legislation that will shortly come before the parliament to boost the range of offenses,” Abbott said on Thursday. “It’s not always easy to prove that someone has been engaged in terrorist activity overseas. It’s often very hard to get witnesses ... so we’ll be strengthening offenses in this area.”

The government believes up to 60 Australians are fighting alongside the Islamic State, while another 100 are actively working to support the movement at home. Canberra has committed 600 troops and aircraft to the US-led coalition preparing to take on the Islamic State in Iraq.

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