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Wednesday, 1 October 2014


Australia's new federal police chief says low-tech terrorism, which can be incited from around the world, makes the Islamic State era a new kind of threat that will take years to stamp out. Andrew Colvin, named by the Abbott government on Wednesday as the next Australian Federal Police Commissioner, said the new kind of terrorism was fundamentally different from past waves. Stopping one plot no longer gave authorities the assurance that another will not spring up, he told Fairfax Media. "If we look at instances like Operation Pendennis and Neath in the past, we were very confident that, in taking the action we did, that we had removed the threat that had been posed by that group," he said. "The operation we're doing now is removing immediate threats. It's obviously taking action against people that are committing criminal offences, but we don't believe it's having the same effect as what we've done in the past. The threat is different." In the wake of counter-terrorism raids in Sydney and Brisbane a fortnight ago, followed by the fatal shooting of a terrorism suspect who allegedly attacked two police officers in Melbourne and then Tuesday's raids in the same city, Assistant Commissioner Colvin said it would be "unwise" to think these had quelled the threat. He has a long history of dealing with counter-terrorism with the AFP, including receiving the Order of Australia for his work after the Bali bombing. But, he said, the new kind of low-tech attack was "a police officer's worst nightmare". He said that the ability of Islamic radicals to communicate through social media around the globe meant a group such as the Islamic State, also known as ISIL, had extraordinary reach. The allegations that the Melbourne man arrested this week, Hassan el Sabsabi, had raised money for an American man to go and fight in Syria – knowing him predominantly through social media – was a perfect illustration, he said. "It is remarkable … The idea that a group of people would conspire to do us harm is one thing. A belief, an inspiration, is more pervasive than that. And [the idea that] people use social media – something as simple as Facebook – to help support somebody they may never have met on the other side of the world, presents a whole range of new challenges for us." He said one effect was that the police might increasingly need to move quickly to stop a terrorist plot to ensure public safety even at the expense of being able to gather as much evidence as they would like for a prosecution. They also needed to work with overseas partners quickly and efficiently, as was the case with the FBI, which led Australian authorities to arrest Mr el Sabsabi. "We need to work with our partners overseas like never before because the speed at which these things are developing, the speed at which they are moving, mean there's no time for us to delay in talking to the FBI for instance. There's no ability for us to wait until all the information has been tested and wrapped in a nice bundle." He stressed that, as well as through policing, the new terrorism threat needed to be solved through good relations with the Muslim communities and programs to counter radical messages with more moderate ones. Asked how terrorism differed from other crimes, such that it warranted the massive funding boost given by the Abbott government, Assistant Commissioner Colvin said terrorism could change "Terrorism is different ... The potential for fear, the potential to fundamentally change what it means to live our way of life, can be influenced in a way that other crimes don't necessarily influence," he said. "The ability to so significantly influence the psyche of a community and change our way of life is far greater with something like terrorism." As for how long the heightened threat would last, Assistant Commissioner Colvin said "it's more generational, so we're talking about years, not weeks and months". "It's the reach of ISIL into communities and their ability to influence that just gives us pause for greater concern … The speed at which people can be influenced and motivated by events far beyond Australia's shores is not something we've dealt with before." Assistant Commissioner Colvin will be sworn in at Government House in Canberra on Thursday. Read more:

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