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Foreign Minister comments on the arrest of suspected Bali bombing ringleader; ASIO raids on JI suspects; and protection against possible terrorist threats.

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LINDA MOTTRAM: The Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, is on the line now from Adelaide, to speak with Alexandra Kirk in Canberra.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Mr Downer, firstly with the arrest of Imam Samudra, the alleged mastermind of the Bali bombings and two others believed to be his associates, do you consider that the investigators have now got to the bottom of the Bali bombings?


ALEXANDER DOWNER: These people have been arrested. It’s alleged that Samudra in particular was the ringleader of those who actually committed the bombing, but of course we don’t know what they’ll have to say and what further information will become available. But I will say this, and that is that we’re delighted with the progress that the Indonesian police have been making and the cooperation between the Indonesian and the Australian police in Indonesia in following up the Bali bombing and looking for the suspects has just been outstanding, and I’m delighted that the arrangements I put in place on 15 and 16 October have worked so well.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: And how crucial a role did the Australian Federal Police play in his capture?


ALEXANDER DOWNER: The Indonesians have been talking a bit about that. I don’t really want to comment on that. We, ourselves, tend not to say too much about operational matters, but I will say that there has been very close cooperation. The Indonesian and the Australian Federal Police have been working very well together throughout, ever since we set up the joint arrangements. Obviously in this particular operation there's been very good cooperation as well.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Are you confident that Indonesian authorities can now mount a successful prosecution?


ALEXANDER DOWNER: I haven’t seen all the evidence. I only know what our own people have told us. I can’t really answer that question. It depends very much on what detailed evidence they bring forward and how the court will respond to it. But certainly the allegation is that this Imam Samudra was perhaps the ringleader of the Bali bombing operation, but what links he may have to other people, that’s still a matter for some speculation, although there are various theories about that.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: If we could look closer to home, there are reports today that the recent ASIO raids on Jemaah Islamiyah suspects proves that the terrorist organisation has well established cells in Australia with up to 80 JI members here. How grave a threat do you consider the JI cells to pose?


ALEXANDER DOWNER: When you say cells, I can see there’s a report in the newspaper saying cells. There are obviously people in Australia with substantial JI links. What those people’s intentions have been of course is not entirely clear. Whether those people have, in particular, been focusing on institutional links with JI in South-East Asia, fund raising, technical assistance to JI operations elsewhere or whether there was ever any suggestion that these people were planning to mount attacks in Australia, of course that’s a matter for some speculation. But as you know, that police and ASIO have been looking very closely into those sorts of questions, and I shouldn’t go too far into speculating on what they may be looking at and what they may think is a possibility.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Do you believe that the raids may have foiled activities?


ALEXANDER DOWNER: I think the raids were necessary and they might have been controversial in some parts of the world, in particular of course in Indonesia, but I think they were necessary. I think we have to be very tough in how we deal with organisations like Jemaah Islamiyah and with people who have links to Jemaah Islamiyah, perhaps links through to al-Qaeda as well, people who have been an Afghanistan on training exercises and so on. I mean, the government can’t be too cautious in protecting the security of Australians, and we just have to be tough in how we address these particular types of people.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: And did these raids and what authorities found contribute to this week’s security alert issued by the federal government?


ALEXANDER DOWNER: No. I can say to you they weren’t tied up with the security alert. The security alert came from other sources altogether, and was linked to a security alert issued in the United States and the United Kingdom.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: We now know that JI members were allowed into Australia in the 1990s on the basis of their claims that they faced religious persecution in their homelands. Some have settled here, some are married to Australians. Does the government have any power to deport them?


ALEXANDER DOWNER: To the best of my knowledge the government doesn’t have any power to do that. Of course as you would be aware, people who are members of JI, and you can prove they’re members of JI, people who have committed a criminal offence but that wouldn’t necessarily lead to somebody being deported. But it is of course of great concern to us that people may have come to Australia quite openly saying that they’re members of Jemaah Islamiyah, that they’ve become Australian citizens and now we’re told there’s not very much we can do about this. So it’s obviously a matter of concern to the government that this has happened over the years.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Finally, Mr Downer, when it comes to protecting Australians against any terrorist threat, New South Wales State MP, Fred Nile, wants Muslim women not to wear traditional robes and veils, saying that the chador is a threat to security because weapons and explosives can be hidden under it. Does Reverend Nile have a point, in your view?


ALEXANDER DOWNER: I don’t think the government is going to start banning particular types of clothing that people wear, particularly where wearing such clothing is indicative of religious beliefs and customs. It has to be very careful not to start telling people what they can and can’t wear. I suppose people could hide all sorts of equipment in all sorts of clothing. You could hide things under a raincoat, I suppose. I don’t think we’re going to ban raincoats. So look, at the end of the day, I don’t think banning clothes is going to be the path the government would go down.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Mr Downer, thank you.




LINDA MOTTRAM: Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, speaking to Alexandra Kirk in Canberra.