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Australian spy agency says right-wing extremist threat is increasing

In wake of Christchurch attack, allegedly carried out by Australian, ASIO says networks more organized than in the past but Islamists remain the chief terror threat

Illustrative: Australian police at a crime scene in Melbourne on November 9, 2018. (William West/AFP)
Illustrative: Australian police at a crime scene in Melbourne on November 9, 2018. (William West/AFP)

SYDNEY, Australia — Right-wing terrorists pose a growing threat in Australia, the country’s spy agency has warned, describing the extremist networks as “more cohesive and organized” than ever.

The Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation’s (ASIO) annual report released Wednesday said extreme right-wing networks are not only better organized now, but “more sophisticated” than in the past.

“The threat from the extreme right wing in Australia has increased in recent years,” it said.

“Extreme right-wing groups in Australia are more cohesive and organized than they have been over previous years, and will remain an enduring threat.”

The Christchurch mosque attacks that claimed the lives of 50 people “brought the right-wing extremist threat back into focus,” ASIO said.

In this picture taken on March 16, 2019, Brenton Tarrant (C), the man charged in relation to the Christchurch massacre, stands in the dock during his appearance at the Christchurch District Court. (Mark Mitchell/Pool/AFP)

Suspected white supremacist Brenton Tarrant, an Australian citizen, is accused of carrying out the rampage in neighboring New Zealand in March.

The spy agency predicted that any future right-wing attack in Australia would likely be “low capability” and carried out by a lone wolf or small group, though it did not rule out the possibility of a “sophisticated weapons attack.”

Australia’s strict gun laws have been widely credited with helping to avoid mass shootings such as the Christchurch massacre.

ASIO said the overall terrorist threat in Australia “remains elevated” on the basis of intelligence that “indicates an intention and capability to conduct a terrorist attack in Australia.”

The collapse of the Islamic State caliphate has not significantly improved threat conditions, the report said, with Sunni Islamic extremism remaining the “principal source” of risk.

Isaak el Matari, who was arrested on terrorism charges by Australian authorities, had declared himself the ‘General Commander of Islamic State Australia.’ (screenshot)

“The threat from home-grown terrorism, coupled with the anticipated attempts by some terrorist fighters to return to Australia, remains a matter of the gravest security concern,” it said.

Australia introduced controversial new counterterrorism laws in July that ban citizens who fought for the Islamic State from returning home for up to two years.

The government says 230 Australians traveled to Syria and Iraq to fight for the terror group, with 80 men and women still in active conflict zones.

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