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Would-be terrorists on parole leap to top of COAG agenda

Frustrated that state justice and law enforcement are not adequately dealing with the threat of would-be terrorists, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has pushed the issue to the top of COAG’s agenda for Friday’s leaders meeting in Hobart.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and Turnbull spoke last night, following the Brighton hostage crisis, and again this morning. But the talks did little to assuage the PM that everything that could or should be done was being done.

This morning, the PM said Australians need to be assured that people who are a threat to their safety are not being released on parole:

“How was this man on parole? He had a long record of violence … We need to address this issue of parole. This will be a high priority at COAG.”

That man, 29-year-old Yacqub Khayre, was on parole for a 2012 armed robbery at the time he took a woman hostage for more than 2 hours on Monday night. He was known to counter-terror officials from the age of 22, when he was charged but acquired in relation to the foiled 2009 Holsworthy Barracks terror plot from which three others were convicted.

Threat level unchanged as assessments continue

Victorian Police Commissioner Graham Ashton early this morning said there was nothing to suggest an attack had been evident beforehand, and it appeared he acted alone this time. The investigation now continues and the evidence including the gunman’s electronic data has been secured.

Australian Federal Police Acting Commissioner Michael Phelan told a later media conference the threat of terrorism is real, but the current national threat level would not be changed from its current “probable” status. To raise it to the next would would require very specific intelligence of a planned attack.

In the three years the terrorism threat level has been at “probable”, authorities have disrupted 12 planned attacks and there have been five counter-terrorism incidents, Phelan said.

Joint counter-terrorism taskforces around the country are currently engaged in 70 operations across Australia, Phelan added. Two hundred individuals were being looked at closely, in addition to an “outer ring” who had come to the attention of authorities.

“It is not a stagnant process that does not move. People move in and out of the rings … hundreds of people in the state of Victoria alone are under review for terrorism links.”

Many possibly policy responses

There will be much for COAG to discuss, not just the PM’s interest in the gunman’s parole status. It will be the first leaders meeting since the coronial inquest findings of the Lindt Cafe terror siege.

Suggestions that the gunman cut off his ankle tracking bracelet on the urging of propaganda material published by Islamic State raise a multitude of possible policy responses for governments.

Among the “Just Terror Tactics” the magazine encourages are take hostages inside a builder, keeping them alive and restrained, “making for a more lengthy and drawn-out hostage scenario.”

Victims can be lured via advertisements for jobs, housings or used goods through online classified sites, it suggested.

Related: How Australia fights ISIS recruitment on Twitter: “Facts don’t matter. We seem to understand this in domestic politics, but not in countering violent extremism.”

Unlike other acts of violence, these purpose of these attacks, the material says, are to inspire terror through “the language of force, the language of killing, stabbing and slitting throats, chopping off heads, flattening them under trucks and burning them alive.”

The PM was asked, at the end of his media conference, how he differentiates terrorism from other acts of violence:

“An act of terrorism is politically – in a nutshell, is politically motivated violence. But, in this case, the offender made it – stated that he was doing this on behalf of ISIL and al-Qaida.”

Counter-terror authorities already well-funded

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews earlier this morning said Victoria Police have never been better resourced and the government stands ready to support Victoria Police.

The state almost doubled its counter-terror capacity 18 months ago, with nearly $50 million allocated to hire 88 new counter-terrorism personnel, including 40 sworn officers, as well as intelligence experts and forensic analysts.

These state resources co-operate with federal authorities through the Joint Counter Terrorism Team with the APF and ASIO.

Commissioner Ashton at the time of the funding boost said police had been “challenged” by the workload presented by increasing numbers of terrorism-related investigations. “It continues to grow at an increasing rate.”

Top photo: A Thursday, Dec. 23, 2010 file photo of Yacqub Khayre leaving court in Melbourne. The gunman at the centre of Monday night’s Melbourne hostage attack has been named in the media as Yacqub Khayre who was acquitted over the Holsworthy terror plot in 2009. (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

Author Bio

Harley Dennett

Harley Dennett is editor at The Mandarin based in Canberra. He's held communications roles in the New South Wales public sector and Defence, and been a staff reporter for newspapers in Sydney and Washington DC.