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Monday, 16 June 2003
Page: 16556

Mr Rudd asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 4 February 2003:

(1) Has his attention been drawn to a report by American academic Dr Zachary Abuza first released in February 2002 who claims that al Qaeda has been active in the South East Asian region for the last ten years.

(2) When was the Australian Government first made aware of the report by Dr Abuza on al Qaedas well-established network of terrorist cells in South East Asia.

(3) Did the Australian embassy in Washington first ask for a copy of the report in August 2002 and has the Australian Federal Police been receiving updated versions of this report.

(4) What action did the Government take upon receipt of this report, given its detailed analysis of the extent of al Qaeda cells across South East Asia not just months but years prior to the Bali bombing.

(5) Given the Government committed this country militarily to the elimination of al Qaeda in Afghanistan in November 2001, and given the knowledge that al Qaeda operatives were already well established in the region, what was the Australian Governments assessment of the likely al Qaeda retaliation through its cells in South-East Asia to the tens of thousands of Australians living in South-East Asia at that time.

(6) When did the Government conclude that Australians were much more likely to become the target of al Qaeda operatives already well established in the region.

Mr Downer (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows :

(1) Yes

(2) and (3) The Australian Embassy in Washington received a copy of Dr Abuza's monograph titled “Tentacles of Terror: Al-Qa'eda's Southeast Asian Network” in early August 2002. The question of what the AFP has or has not received would be for my colleague the Minister for Justice and Customs to address.

(4) Dr Abuza's report did not add substantially to our general understanding of al-Qa'eda's activities in South East Asia.

(5) Travel advices for Indonesia, Philippines and Malaysia were adjusted over the period October-November 2001 to take account of the international coalition's military actions in Afghanistan. I made public statements in mid-2002 expressing Australia's deep concern about the terrorist threat in South East Asia posed by groups like Jema'ah Islamiyah and al-Qa'eda. I expressed similar concerns in response to a question in this House on 17 September 2002.

(6) In response to credible threats concerning the region, most travel advisories for South East Asia were upgraded on 10 and 11 September 2002 to alert Australians to the potential for terrorist activity in the region. The warnings reflected in the travel advice were reported widely in the Australian media and were of course disseminated widely by my department. Prior to the 10 and 11 September updates, a number of the Government's travel advisories warned about the possibility of bomb attacks, including the travel advice for Indonesia.