Australia unveils new anti-terrorism laws

Australia unveils new anti-terrorism laws
Prime Minister Tony Abbott

Security agencies in Australia will gain enhanced powers to detain terror suspects and conduct long-term surveillance under new anti-terrorism laws introduced yesterday.

The tough new measures were unveiled in Parliament yesterday by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, and came days after the discovery of an alleged extremist plot to conduct filmed beheadings in Sydney.

Under the new laws, the government would be allowed to designate specific terrorism hot spots and to arrest anyone who travels to these areas.

The no-go zones are yet to be publicly listed but Raqqa in north-east Syria - a stronghold for the extremist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) - was given as an example.

Journalists and aid workers travelling to the troubled areas for work will be exempt from the law.

Admitting that the measures would limit democratic freedoms, Mr Abbott said the "darkening" security situation and the growing threat from Australian extremists justified the laws.

"Regrettably, for some time to come, the delicate balance between freedom and security may have to shift," he said in a statement to Parliament. "There may be more restrictions on some, so there can be more protection for others."

Both Mr Abbott and opposition leader Bill Shorten emphasised that the new laws were not designed to target Muslims and that the overwhelming majority of Australia's 500,000 Muslims did not support the extremist groups.

The laws come as the authorities stepped up security in major Australian cities and restricted access around Parliament House in Canberra following "chatter" about a potential terror attack.

The alleged beheading plot was revealed last week after almost 900 security officers raided dozens of homes in Sydney and Brisbane and arrested at least 15 people in the biggest counter-terrorism operation in Australia's history.

Growing concerns about Australian militants returning home after fighting with extremist groups in Iraq and Syria also prompted Australia to raise its terror threat level to "high" for the first time.

A statement posted online yesterday by ISIS spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani specifically mentioned Australia three times as a target for militants. Mr Abbott's office last night said Australian security agencies believed the statement was "genuine".

"My unambiguous message to all Australians who fight with terrorist groups is that you will be arrested, prosecuted and jailed for a very long time indeed," said Mr Abbott.

This article was first published on September 23, 2014.
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