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Monday, 18 August 2003
Page: 18700

Mr CAUSLEY (2:37 PM) —My question is directed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

The SPEAKER —The member for McMillan is warned!

Mr CAUSLEY —In the wake of Hambali's arrest, would the minister inform the House of further developments to promote national security and protect Australians in the fight against terror?

Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —I thank the honourable member for Page for his question. I recognise the interest he shows in this issue in asking the question. As both the Prime Minister and I said at the end of last week, we warmly welcome the arrest of Hambali. Prime Minister Thaksin of Thailand has now confirmed that Hambali was captured in Thailand in a joint operation with the United States. I want to take the opportunity to congratulate the United States, in particular the Central Intelligence Agency, as well as the various Thai authorities for the excellent work they have done. The success of the Thais working with the CIA illustrates a very good point—that is, the importance of the United States remaining heavily engaged in the region. The CIA plays a very important role, if not the central role, in the war against terrorism in our part of the world. We are grateful for that. We are not ashamed to say so.

It also illustrates a point that in South-East Asia there is no such thing as a safe haven for terrorists anymore. Hambali is now being held by the Americans and is being interviewed. As honourable members may have read in the newspapers this morning, his wife, who is a Malaysian national, has been handed back to Malaysian authorities. We are already in discussion with the United States on the interviews they are conducting with Hambali, and we will have the opportunity to direct questions to Hambali. Obviously, details of the interrogation are not the sort of thing that we are going to make public, and I think the House would understand that only too well.

Hambali was Jemaah Islamiah's operations head as well as being the key figure for al-Qaeda in South-East Asia. He has had a direct hand in many terrorist atrocities and Australian deaths. We believe he is the architect of the Bali bombing, which killed 88 Australians and a total of 202 people. We believe he met with two of the September 11 hijackers, whose activity resulted in 10 Australian deaths and total confirmed deaths of 2,948 people. We suspect his involvement in the recent bombing of the Marriott hotel in Jakarta. He is blamed for around 19 deaths on Christmas Eve 2000, when 20 bombs went off simultaneously in churches in Indonesia. He is believed to have directed a bomb attack on a train station in Manila in December 2000, which killed 22 people.

The most important thing at the moment is getting as much information as possible from Hambali about any terrorist operations that he may have planned for the future. It is obvious why that is our immediate priority. Suggestions that Hambali was targeting the APEC leaders summit in October are to be taken seriously. It is easy to envisage that a major meeting of leaders would be an attractive target for Jemaah Islamiah. The Prime Minister, the trade minister and I are looking forward to attending APEC in Bangkok in October, and we are pleased with the actions taken thus far by the Thai government to ensure the safety and the security of the meeting.

Delighted as we and our neighbours are with the arrest of Hambali, and as important as that is, we must not become complacent and think that the fight against Jemaah Islamiah, against this Islamic fundamentalist extremist terrorism in our region, is over. There is still a long way to go despite the progress that has been made. Hambali's arrest will have a very significant impact but it has not removed the terrorist threat. There are still other people in South-East Asia who can do the job. There are people who can replace him, and we are working with our partners and friends in the region to contribute as best we can to efforts to try to track down these people and bring them to justice.