Wednesday, 19  February 2003  
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Israel rates Australia a "major target" for terror attack: report

CANBERRA, Feb 18 (AFP) - Israel has received specific information that Australia faces terrorist attack because its "generally poor security" makes it an easy target for Islamic radicals, it was reported here Tuesday.

The Australian newspaper quoted an anonymous "authoritative Israeli source" as saying Israel had significant, specific information that Australia was a high-profile target for al-Qaeda-linked terrorists.

The paper said the Israelis believed al-Qaeda had found Australia and south-east Asia easy to penetrate because of the region's generally poor security, porous borders and weak government and law enforcement structures.

As a result, the Israeli assessment was that there were dozens of dormant terrorist cells in the region that could be activated at any time, possibly as a result of military action against Iraq.

The newspaper said both the Australian mainland and its diplomatic missions were regarded as possible targets.

"In south east Asia over the last few years, you've seen many local activities, bombings and so on, but increasingly they are part of a global agenda," the Israeli source said. "The key is preaching world jihad."

Australia has been one of the strongest supporters of the United States in the push to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, sending some 2,000 military personnel to the Gulf in preparation for possible military action against Iraq.

But Prime Minister John Howard rejected the view that his government's stance increased the likelihood of Australia becoming a terrorist target, saying all Western nations were under threat, regardless of policies on Iraq.

"If you think taking a different stance on Iraq buys immunity for your citizens, think of the German and French citizens who died in terrorist attacks at the hands of al-Qaeda," he told commercial television.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Iraq's links to al-Qaeda and other terrorist organisations added to the danger that attacks could occur in Australia's immediate neighbourhood.

"Iraq has a long history of state-sponsored terrorism," he said, adding that there was evidence operatives of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had been in Baghdad.

New South Wales state Premier Bob Carr said he had not received any Israeli-sourced advice on possible terrorist attacks but the warning served as a reminder of the need to be prepared.

Australia has been on heightened alert since a car bomb killed more than 190 people on the Indonesian resort island of Bali last October, 88 of them Australian.

The report of an Israeli warning follows comments by Australian Federal Police commissioner Mick Keelty last week that suspected terrorist sleeper cells were operating in the Asia-Pacific and regional police chiefs must cooperate to stamp them out.

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