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Attorney-General discusses man arrested in India, who was allegedly planning terrorist acts in Australia.

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Hon Daryl Williams AM QC MP  



Terrorism threat to Aust 'no suprise'

The World Today - Thursday, December  6, 2001  12:10

JOHN HIGHFIELD: The Australian Attorney-General, Daryl Williams, says admissions of a supposed terrorist threat against Australia by a man arrested in India are no surprise.

Intelligence reports reaching the Howard Government have identified potential threats to Australia, India and the United Kingdom. Indian police have reportedly detained the man on suspicion of being linked to the Al Qaeda terrorist network of Osama bin Laden. During interrogation, he claimed planes were to be used against countries other than the United States.

Mr Williams has confirmed the individual in Indian custody actually visited Australia for pilot training a couple of years ago.

Well, the federal attorney is in The World Today Canberra studio now. Speaking to him, our political reporter Shane McLeod.

SHANE MCLEOD: Mr Williams, thanks for joining us today. What can you tell us of this man and his links to Australia?

DARYL WILLIAMS: Well I received a briefing on the matter this morning, from ASIO [Australian Security Intelligence Organisation]. The man is being detained in India for some weeks. We have confirmed that he undertook pilot training in Australia in 1997 and 1998. We've also ascertained that he left Australia in December 1998 and has not returned.

He claims he undertook the training for the purpose of engaging in terrorist acts like those on September the 11th. We're still investigating the voracity of that claim. We can assure the Australian public that we're not aware of any specific threat to Australia from this man, or those with whom he may have been associated. And we have, as many people would be aware, been on a heightened level of security since September the 11th. People will have observed the additional measures taken at airports, for example.

The government also proposes to introduce some additional counter-terrorism measures, including some legislative proposals.

SHANE MCLEOD: Alright, if we can turn to this man, you've said this morning that he's not an Australian national. Can we assume that he is from India, he's an Indian national?

DARYL WILLIAMS: We're not providing any additional information in relation to the man, at this stage, on the basis that the matter is still under investigation and it's neither in the interests of the investigation, nor matters of national security, that we provide additional information.

SHANE MCLEOD: Can you say where he trained, or what type of pilot's qualification he was after?

DARYL WILLIAMS: Um, we're not proposing to go into those sort of details. I have confirmed that he trained in Australia, he visited Australia for that purpose.

SHANE MCLEOD: Are Australian officials taking part in the investigation in India?

DARYL WILLIAMS: ASIO and other security and intelligence agencies have close liaison with international counterparts. A lot of information is provided to Australia and Australia provides information, in return, to other agencies. This is the principal source of information on a matter like this.

SHANE MCLEOD: How seriously, though, can you take claims like this from one man? Do you have evidence linking him to other people, other associates perhaps, in Australia?

DARYL WILLIAMS: Well the matter is still under investigation, I don't want to comment. All I can say is that, as a result of the events of September the 11th, there have been thousands of reports made to intelligence agencies around the world. And, in view of the seriousness of the events of September the 11th, they have to be taken seriously and they have to be investigated. Some of them will turn out to be false and some of them may turn out to have some ground to them.

SHANE MCLEOD: The claims of this man seem to suggest he came to Australia with the sole purpose of undertaking pilot training. Are you aware that he undertook any other activities while he was here?

DARYL WILLIAMS: I don't propose to comment on that. It seems that he came to Australia for the purpose of training as a pilot. Whether that was for the purpose of engaging in terrorist acts is a matter still under investigation.

SHANE MCLEOD: Are you surprised at the way that this matter has come to public attention, the fact that it was comments from an Indian minister at what appears to be a business lunch?

DARYL WILLIAMS: Well there's a great deal of interest in this. And obviously, if anybody anywhere around the world mentions Australia in this context, then it will be picked up and … but ASIO has been aware of a range of claims in relation to Australia for some time. Anything that appears to have any ground to it will be properly investigated.

SHANE MCLEOD: When you say 'for some time', you mean post-September 11, or were we aware of this …

DARYL WILLIAMS: Since September the 11th, yes.

SHANE MCLEOD: Okay. Now the Government is proposing legislation to deal with the issue of terrorism. There's been some criticism of that. How close are you to putting together that final package of legislation that will go before Parliament?

DARYL WILLIAMS: Well, we're hoping to put some proposals to the National Security Committee of Cabinet, and to the Cabinet, in the near future. Obviously there would need to be detailed consideration of any legislative proposals that would be put to the Parliament next year. The process is well under way.

SHANE MCLEOD: Daryl Williams, thanks for your time.

DARYL WILLIAMS: It's been a pleasure.

JOHN HIGHFIELD: And the Federal Attorney-General, circumspect in mood, speaking to our political reporter, Shane McLeod.



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