Australia will join the U.S. in offering aid to foes of Islamic State as the threat of militants returning from Iraq and Syria to commit terror attacks in their home countries triggers heightened alerts.
“The large number of Australians participating in the conflict means Australia is facing its highest threat for some time,” Attorney-General George Brandis said in an e-mailed statement. The nation will heed a U.S. request to join a multinational effort in providing aircraft to transport military equipment and arms to anti-militant forces in Iraq, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said today.
Australia’s stance comes after the U.K. raised its terror threat to “severe,” the second-highest level, due to new intelligence, with Prime Minister David Cameron saying the battle against Islamic extremism is a “generational struggle” which will probably last decades. The U.S. earlier this month authorized air strikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq while ordering surveillance flights over Syria.
The U.K. public could expect to see more police, including armed officers, on the streets as a result of the increased threat level, Cameron told reporters in London Aug. 29. He will also announce new legislation tomorrow to make it easier to confiscate the passports of people suspected of wanting to travel to join extremist groups including Islamic State, the Sunni militant group also known as ISIL and ISIS that has captured ground in both Syria and Iraq.
“What we are facing in Iraq now with ISIL is a greater threat to our security than we have seen before,” Cameron said. “We could be facing a terrorist state on the shores of the Mediterranean and bordering a NATO member.”
North Atlantic Treaty Organization member Turkey shares a border with both Syria and Iraq.
The U.K.’s “Severe” terrorism threat rating means an attack is “highly likely,” but that there’s no intelligence about a specific plot. The highest level is “Imminent.”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said there are no plans to raise the threat level in the U.S. Obama administration officials have been in contact with their counterparts in the U.K. about the British decision, he said.
The Royal Australian Air Force will provide a C-130 Hercules and C-17 Globemaster aircraft to transport stores of military equipment, including arms and munitions, to anti-ISIL forces, Abbott said today in an e-mailed statement. Other nations involved in aiding the U.S.-led drops include the U.K., France, Canada and Italy, he said.
Australia’s government, which hasn’t ruled out participating in U.S. air strikes, has assessed there were about 60 Australians fighting in Syria and Iraq for terrorism groups, with about 100 more involved in facilitation and support for those groups, Brandis said in a statement yesterday. Australia’s terrorism public alert system remained at “Medium,” indicating an attack could occur, he said.
“We remain in close contact with the U.K. and other partners about the threat from terrorist groups active in Syria and Iraq and from returning foreign fighters,” Brandis said.
Cameron said Islamic State “believes in using the most brutal forms of terrorism to force people to accept a warped world view and live in an almost medieval state.”
He said that military force was only part of fighting the group, and that political change would be needed in the region as well.
Earlier, Home Secretary Theresa May explained the decision by the government’s Joint Terrorism Analysis Center to raise the threat level.
“The increase in the threat level is related to developments in Syria and Iraq where terrorist groups are planning attacks against the West,” May said in a statement in London. “Some of those plots are likely to involve foreign fighters who have traveled there from the U.K. and Europe to take part in those conflicts.”
Cameron said at least 500 people have traveled from the U.K. to fight in Iraq and Syria with Islamic State.