Ten years after Bali, we must remain alert, not alarmed
Next month will mark a decade since the 2002 Bali bombings where 202 people were murdered.
Eighty-eight of those killed were Australians. We are all too familiar with the tragic story – a bomb in a backpack, detonated inside a nightclub, forcing locals and holidaymakers to flee – where they were met by another, much larger bomb hidden inside a small van.
And the counter-terrorism raids that occurred in Victoria on Wednesday are another reminder that we must be ever-vigilant to the risks of a terror attack, even ten years after Bali.
What many people do not remember is that the Bali bombs were constructed from a number of ingredients including the oxidising agent potassium chlorate – a chemical with a wide range of everyday industrial applications.
While you may not recognise the name, you’ll see potassium chlorate used legitimately and legally as a disinfectant agent, in safety matches and in the manufacture of fireworks.
And there lies the challenge for governments. While a number of chemicals can be used by terrorists to construct home-made explosives, many are widely available and are used regularly in the garden, for the family pool, at the hairdresser or on the farm.
It’s estimated that almost 600,000 workplaces in Australia use one or more of the 96 chemicals the Government’s experts have identified as being of security concern. Hydrogen peroxide can be used as hair bleach and for first aid; nitric acid is used to clean food and dairy equipment and nitromethane is used as fuel in drag racing and sold by hobby shops for use in radio controlled models.
The challenge for governments is how to improve the security around the sale and handling of these widely used, everyday chemicals, while ensuring they remain available for legitimate use by industry and consumers. It’s a difficult task and one that cannot be tackled without community support.
Since 2000, our policing and intelligence agencies have disrupted four major terrorist plots and over 20 people have been prosecuted as a result of counter-terrorism operations. In one plot, terrorists planned to procure up to 850kg of chemicals which police believe were to be used to create home-made explosives.
Our domestic intelligence agency ASIO is currently dealing with about 200 active counter-terrorism investigations. Many are sparked by information provided by the public. Information provided by the public to the National Security Hotline (1800 1234 00) is key to our efforts to prevent a terrorist bombing in Australia.
Although there is no set list of suspicious indicators, Australian and overseas experience has provided some signs to look out for including suspicious purchases, possession of large quantities or unexplained use of chemicals.
Other valuable information for the authorities is the unusual storage or dumping of chemical containers, unexplained chemical odours or facilities such as garages or self-storage units being accessed at odd times of the day or night. Of course, packages or bags left unattended in public places such as shopping centres or bus and rail stations should also be reported.
Businesses can also help to prevent, detect and deter suspicious purchases of chemicals. This can be achieved by wholesalers, retailers, transporters and others knowing their customers and reporting anything that seems unusual.
On 12 October, I urge Australian to take a moment to honour the innocent men, women and children throughout the world who have lost their lives and loved ones to senseless acts of terrorist violence and to remember the sacrifices made by those who have risked their lives to protect and rescue others in the wake of terrorist attacks.
The memory of the victims and the pain of their families strengthens our resolve to do our best to prevent such an attack taking place in Australia.
The National Security Hotline can be contacted on 1800 1234 00. A podcast on chemical security featuring the Attorney-General can be accessed at www.chemicalsecurity.gov.au
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