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The current security environment

The Australian security environment

Australia's National Terrorism Threat Level remains PROBABLE

Credible intelligence, assessed by our security agencies, indicates that individuals or groups continue to possess the intent and capability to conduct a terrorist attack in Australia. The public should continue to exercise caution and report any suspicious incidents to the National Security Hotline by calling 1800 123 400. Life-threatening situations should be reported to the police by calling Triple Zero (000).

International terrorist groups have proven adept at using their extremist ideology to motivate lone actors or small groups to use violence in their home countries. Individuals in Australia can be influenced directly by overseas-based extremists as well as by a wide-range of propaganda which provides inspiration and encouragement for terrorist attacks onshore. External influence has been a feature of several prevented terrorism plots and attacks in Australia and also in terrorist incidents across Europe, the United States and Asia.

The terrorist threat in Australia has been elevated since September 2014-in the subsequent period there have been four terrorist attacks and 12 disrupted terrorist plots. Almost all these attacks and disruptions occurred in Sydney or Melbourne, and we expect the greatest exposure to the threat remains in those cities. However, in Australia, as in other Western countries, the terrorist threat is not confined to the major cities. Australia and Australians continue to be viewed as legitimate targets by those who wish to do us harm and believe they have an ideological justification to conduct attacks. Additionally, any of the small number of Australians involved with violent extremist groups overseas who return home may present long-term challenges.

Terrorism in Australia

The violent ideology of Sunni Islamist terrorist groups-such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and al-Qa'ida-continues to appeal to a small number of people in Australia. These groups use the power of the internet to provide their propaganda to an existing audience and also aim it at those susceptible to radicalisation. The broad body of propaganda continues to grow. Some releases specifically celebrate terrorist attacks overseas including the methods and tactics used in attacks, while others feature tailored messaging that references specific countries or individuals. Australia has been specifically mentioned in ISIL's online magazines, most recently in February 2017. These propaganda releases add to a large body of material that encourages terrorism. While a single piece of propaganda is unlikely to be the sole catalyst for an onshore attack, it can offer inspiration and guidance that may appeal to individuals willing to use violence. The impact of the actions of individuals can be significant and is clearly evident in the terrorist attacks that have occurred in Australia since 2014.

The primary terrorist threat in Australia is from a small number of Islamist extremists, principally lone actors or small groups who use simple attack methodologies that enable them to act independently and with a high degree of agility. The simple nature of these attacks means preparation may not involve activity that is concerning enough to come to the attention of authorities-meaning there is no guarantee of early detection or disruption. Many Islamist terrorist attacks and plots aim to inflict maximum casualties and attackers often aim to be killed during their attack. Previous overseas attacks have been perpetrated by small groups and featured multiple attackers and targets; while more complex, these attacks still used relatively simple weapons and tactics.

The lone actor threat is not confined to Islamist extremists. Individuals motivated by other ideological agendas could also consider conducting an act of terrorism; the 2016 arrest and subsequent terrorism-related charges against a right-wing lone actor in Melbourne reinforces this threat.

Terrorist targeting

While the symbolic appeal of an attack against a government or authority-such as the military, police and security agencies-elevates the threat to these entities, members of the public and locations where large crowds congregate could also be attacked indiscriminately. Attacks against the general public are designed to cause injury or death and are aimed at disrupting our lives and causing fear; even a simple attack can meet this objective. This is why it is important for the public to maintain a level of awareness and to report any suspicious activity immediately to authorities- www.nationalsecurity.gov.au provides information on what to report and how to report it.

Terrorist weapons and tactics

While the most likely form of terrorism in Australia remains an attack by an individual or small group, the possibility of coordinated attacks against multiple targets cannot be ruled out.

Any terrorist attack in Australia over the next 12 months would probably involve weapons and tactics that are low-cost and relatively simple, including basic weapons, explosives and/or firearms. Basic weapons are readily available, everyday objects that do not require specialist skills. Terrorists have used basic weapons such as knives, machetes or vehicles to conduct lethal attacks. Explosives remain a favoured terrorist weapon globally. There is a range of online literature and propaganda that shows how homemade explosives can be manufactured from readily available materials. Firearms can be sourced through legal and illicit channels.

Our response

Governments are working closely with communities to prevent terrorism, combat terrorist propaganda online and promote early intervention programmes.

Federal, state and territory authorities have well-tested cooperative arrangements in place and have adopted appropriate security measures.

Police and security agencies liaise closely with critical infrastructure owners and operators.

In the current environment, Australians should go about their daily business as usual but should exercise caution and be aware of events around them. If you see, hear or become aware of something suspicious or unusual, call the National Security Hotline on 1800 123 400. Every call is important and could prevent a terrorist attack in Australia.