Immigration Minister Peter Dutton cautioned yesterday that the risk of extremist violence was “as great as it’s ever been” and was “only going to get worse in the foreseeable future” as Islamic State gained territory in the Middle East and supporters around the world.
Australian Strategic Policy Institute executive director Peter Jennings said it was likely certain dates key to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s accession as “caliph” would be marked by an increase in terrorism now and in the future.
Mr Dutton attended weekend briefings of cabinet’s National Security Committee after terror attacks committed on Friday by a gunman on a beach in Tunisia, a suicide bomber at a Shia mosque in Kuwait and a Frenchman who allegedly decapitated his boss in Lyons.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for the apparently co-ordinated attacks in Tunisia and Kuwait, while authorities suspect the French suspect, Yassin Salhi, was a “lone wolf” who allegedly took a “selfie” photograph of himself with his victim’s remains.
Mr Dutton said the three attacks, together with the capture of Ramadi in Iraq, indicated that the terrorism threat to countries such as Australia “will get much worse before it gets much better”.
“Obviously instructions have been issued by leaders within that terrorist group to conduct attacks and it seems that that’s what’s happened,” he said.
“The fact that 23 people have been charged (in Australia) with terrorism-related offences since last September really shows how significant and how this threat has ramped up in recent months and over the last couple of years: my judgment is this will get much worse before it gets much better.”
Tony Abbott said security briefings to the government indicated the latest terror attacks were “clearly” influenced by Da’ish, Islamic State’s Arabic acronym, but it was “far from clear they were actually directed by the death cult”.
Mr Jennings said the “confluence” of attacks suggested they had been co-ordinated for tomorrow’s first anniversary of the caliphate. “You’re seeing essentially a propaganda push to remind everyone the caliphate is still here, it’s not gone away, and that Islamic State’s reach is extending,” Mr Jennings said.
“It’s Ramadan, which is traditionally a month of intensifying jihad, and also 30 June is the first anniversary of the announcing of the caliphate. July 5 is the anniversary of al-Baghdadi’s speech in the Grand Mosque in Mosul where he calls upon the Sunnis to undertake more jihad in Ramadan.
“Even the French (attack) falls into a pattern of increasing violent jihadist attacks in Ramadan.”
Mr Jennings warned that the threat extended to Australians. “If it can happen on a beach in Tunisia, it can happen on a beach in Bali, frankly,” he said. Lowy Institute research fellow Rodger Shanahan noted that the attacks did not seem especially complex, although it “doesn’t take much to do a terrorist attack these days”.
Australian Islamic State sympathisers at home and abroad trumpeted Friday’s attacks as the first of many during Ramadan, when good deeds, including martyrdom, are seen as being highly rewarded in the afterlife.
On Friday night, Dawood Elmir, a former Melbourne man fighting with Islamic State, tweeted: “Blessed attacks begin in France this Ramadan.”
Even from Australia, Islamic State supporters have celebrated the attacks, with one man posting: “So many victories in this month already, many more to come.”
The government confirmed yesterday that the terror alert system might be changed to make the level of risk more “precise”.
Currently, there are four terror alert levels: low, medium, high and extreme. The threat level now is “high” and can become “extreme” if a terrorist attack is imminent or has taken place.
A spokeswoman for Attorney-General George Brandis said advice from national security and law-enforcement agencies was being assessed to make sure the “gradations and descriptors are as precise as possible in this complex national security environment”.
Labor frontbencher Joel Fitzgibbon accused Mr Abbott of ramping up fears of terrorism so he could fight a “khaki election” that emphasised military affairs and national security.
“This guy is the master of mind manipulation. He’s instilling fear and uncertainty into the community when he really should be instilling hope and aspiration,” Mr Fitzgibbon, a former defence minister, told Sky News’s Australian Agenda program.
Mr Dutton claimed Labor was in “denial” about “a very, very real threat”. “Since last September there have been two terrorist attacks in our country, six terrorist attacks have been thwarted by the authorities, ASIO advises they have 400 high-priority investigations,” he said.
After reports last week of the death by drone strike of Australian Mohamed Elomar in Syria, there was further speculation yesterday that his friend Khaled Sharrouf may have survived the attack.