Natalie O’Brien May 6, 2012
Smoke over the Opera House … an image in an al-Qaeda-linked magazine.
Australia has been named as a specific target for pyro-terrorism in the latest edition of an online terrorism magazine linked with al-Qaeda.
A picture of the Opera House with smoke clouds behind it – captioned ”Sydney city on fire” – has been used to illustrate a story that promotes the use of bushfires as terrorist attacks.
The article in Inspire magazine, titled ”It is of your freedom to ignite a firebomb”, gives a step-by-step guide to building an ”ember bomb”, which it advocates as the best way to start destructive fires.
The article’s release was condemned yesterday by the Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, who said there was no imminent threat against Australia.
However, Ms Roxon said it was a timely reminder, one year since the death of Osama bin Laden, that the threat of violent extremism in Australia remained. ”I have instructed my department to draw this material to the attention of relevant authorities, including the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Communications and Media Authority.”
Inspire is an English-language magazine published by associates of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, based in Yemen and said to have been involved in many high-profile terrorist attacks including an attempted car bombing in Times Square, New York, in 2010.
The research director at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Anthony Bergin, said the idea of extremist groups using natural hazards as weapons had been around for some time ”but up until now the attraction has remained with bombs and bullets”.
Dr Bergin said it would be easy for authorities to discount a bushfire as terrorism and harder for terrorist groups to claim glory.
But he said Australian authorities had recently adopted more sophisticated approaches to firefighting, including surveillance and land clearing measures.
The article provides specific examples and statistics of devastating bushfires in NSW and Queensland. It does not mention the Black Saturday fires in Victoria in 2009.
The article talks up the devastation caused by fires and provides details about the best times of the year to start a fire in different parts of Australia.
The article says of past fires in Australia: ”These fires ruined the dry before the green, exhausted lives and properties, wiped out a lot of farms and houses, destroyed thousands of trees that are used in manufacturing and created an atmosphere of terror and panic.”
Under Australia’s anti-terrorism laws, anyone found guilty of inciting a terrorism offence can face up to 10 years’ jail.
Anyone found guilty of urging violence can face up to seven years in jail.
A former volunteer firefighter who lit one of the Black Saturday bushfires that killed 10 people was jailed for 17 years and nine months.