Skip to main content

Counter-Terrorism: Regional Coordination and Cooperation

News, speeches and media


Speaker: Mr Les Luck, Ambassador for Counter-Terrorism, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to National Security Australia 2004 Conference


Photo - See caption below for description


Ladies and Gentlemen

It is a great pleasure to be here today to address the National Security Australia 2004 conference.

It is heartening to see that the issue of national security has attracted so many participants and expert guest speakers. Almost inevitably conferences of this kind have a poignant timeliness in an era of recurrent terrorism.

This audience hardly needs to be reminded that one of the most serious threats to Australia's national security, and to Australians both here and overseas, is international terrorism.

Terrorism affects us all and our campaign against terrorism involves many sectors of the Australian community.

I have been asked to say something about the international dimensions of Australia's counter-terrorism strategies and, in particular, our efforts to enhance regional cooperation on counter-terrorism.

But first let me begin by talking to you about the continuing threat from international terrorism.

The continuing terrorist threat

The appalling bombings in Madrid nearly two weeks ago were a harsh reminder that terrorism does indeed have global dimensions, posing a threat to the security and prosperity of all nations; that no country is immune to attack or exploitation by terrorists, and no-one can afford to retreat from the problem.

It is still too early to assess who was responsible for the Madrid bombings but there are indications that they were carried out by a terrorist group that is either associated with or, at the very least, influenced by al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda's command and organisational apparatus may have been severely degraded since September 2001, but it clearly remains a potent threat capable of orchestrating or inspiring mass casualty attacks.

One thing the Madrid bombings do demonstrate is a continuing ability by international terrorist groups to execute relatively complex operations through meticulous planning and networks of previously unknown terrorists. They also confirm a trend towards 'soft' targets chosen because they present both opportunity and vulnerability, where the economic impact will be severe. These have been the hallmarks of al-Qaeda.

The callous bombings in Bali in October 2002 by al-Qaeda's South-East Asian affiliate - Jema'ah Islamiyah (JI) - brought these harsh realities of contemporary terrorism home to Australians in personal and devastating ways.

Over recent years, regional extremists have adopted al-Qaeda's anti-western ideology, developing a similar 'jihadist' fanaticism, a commitment to realise their goals through violence and to some extent a sharing of resources. That the jailed Indonesian extremist, Abu Bakar Bashir, continues unashamedly to endorse al-Qaeda's murderous purposes is a chilling reminder that the terrorist threat in Australia's neighbourhood persists.

Like al-Qaeda itself, JI has taken a long view as it has entrenched itself regionally. Despite the degradation it has suffered as an operational network, JI retains an organisational structure, a determined approach to recruitment and training, and a capacity to inflict further serious attacks in a number of regional countries.

The al-Ghuraba cell, uncovered in Karachi late last year, appears to have been set up as a training cell for future JI leaders. It is evidence of JI's strategic planning and determination to remain a force over the longer-term.

JI retains a capacity to operate across national boundaries. It is increasingly apparent that it is cooperating with Islamic extremist groups in the southern Philippines, to the point of sharing training facilities and operational expertise.

It has been suggested that JI's jihadist ideology may spawn other militant groups which may come to represent an even more unpredictable and dangerous terrorist threat in South-East Asia.

There have also been indications that the South Asian terrorist group, Laskar-e-Toiba, is seeking to extend its operational reach into South-East Asia and Australia from its traditional pre-occupation with Kashmir.

Terrorism exploits vulnerabilities. Even countries or communities seemingly distant from the "front-line", can experience attacks or be exploited to provide infrastructure for terrorists such as false documents, money-laundering, training opportunities, or trafficking in weapons and explosives.

The overall picture is that, despite set-backs, Al Qaeda and terrorist groups like JI, which share much of their ideology and methodology, are persistent, innovative and adaptable in choosing targets and evading counter-measures. This amounts to a long-term threat in which Australians and Australian interests internationally are at risk from terrorism.

The Australian response

The Australian Government's first priority is to defeat the terrorists and the Government is committing substantial resources to this task. Since September 11 and the Bali bombings, around $3 billion in additional resources has been committed to protecting Australia against the new terrorist threat.

Madrid – and the string of attacks before it in the United States, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Kenya, Yemen, Tunisia, Indonesia, Philippines, Tanzania - highlight that we are indeed in a race against time to prevent terrorists indiscriminately killing more innocent people.

Australia and its partners in the war against terrorism have had some success using our law enforcement, intelligence and security capabilities to track and arrest terrorists and disrupt terrorist networks.

Critically, this has required stronger international cooperation reflecting the fact that no country can combat terrorism on its own. International cooperation is especially important given that terrorists are able to exploit the enhanced communications and travel afforded by globalisation.

Muslim and non-Muslim countries have shown they can be effective allies in the fight against terror. Indeed such cooperation has been vital to the progress which has been made.

Today, some 3,000 terrorist suspects have been detained in more than 90 countries and entire al-Qaeda cells have been disrupted. Nearly US$200 million in terrorist assets have been frozen or seized.

In our own region some 200 Jema'ah Islamiyah suspects have been detained; key figures like Hambali and Al-Ghozi are no longer at large.

The Australian and Indonesian police forces have been highly effective in working together in the aftermath of the Bali and JW Marriot (Jakarta) bombings in hunting down the perpetrators and bringing them to justice.

And justice is being done – almost 18 months after Bali bombings, 33 convictions have been handed down.

But much of the Government's focus is also on steps we can take to help prevent terrorist attacks through international cooperation on many fronts: border and transport security, the disruption of terrorist finances, cooperation among police, security and intelligence agencies, and greater political coordination between regional governments to provide a framework for practical cooperation.

My own role as Ambassador for Counter-Terrorism is to assist this by promoting and intensifying the Government's international counter-terrorism efforts. An important dimension to this is to project a comprehensive and integrated policy approach internationally, building upon the very effective links which operational agencies have with partner countries.

In our experience, there is much to be gained by concentrating on deepening bilateral links on counter-terrorism with our partners, both to improve our understanding of the threat and to build capacities to meet it.

Australia has put in place a network of bilateral counter terrorism Memoranda of Understanding with nine countries in the region – Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Fiji, Cambodia, Papua New Guinea, East Timor and India.

These MOUs underpin practical cooperation in areas such as intelligence and information exchange, law enforcement cooperation, transport security, border management, capacity-building and anti-terrorist financing.

They enhance practical, operational-level liaison between regional security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies and have resulted in the prevention and disruption of terrorist activities and the arrest of numerous key terrorist figures.

Our MOU with Indonesia, for example, provided the basis for POLRI-AFP cooperation and the success in bringing the Bali bombers to justice.

Under the MOU with the Philippines the AFP assisted investigations into the Davao bombings of March 2003.

Australia recognises that helping countries to develop their own capabilities to fight terrorism is as important as operational-level cooperation. To this end, this financial year the Government is providing over $12 million in counter-terrorism capacity-building assistance to our regional partners. This figure will grow in the period ahead as new projects come on line.

Some examples of our capacity-building support include a 4-year, $10 million assistance package with Indonesia to strengthen law enforcement capabilities. This package has also been used to help establish a financial intelligence unit and strengthen travel security arrangements. A similar 3-year, $5 million package with the Philippines focuses on law enforcement, border security and port controls.

A significant part of Australia's development assistance program in the region goes to programs designed to improve law enforcement and strengthen governance.

Australian agencies – AUSTRAC (financial intelligence), DIMIA (document fraud detection), Transport/Customs (maritime security obligations), Attorney-General's (legislative drafting) and AFP (forensics, bomb-scene analysis, disaster victim identification) – are delivering training direct to their counterparts in the region.

The Government also pursues counter-terrorism strategies at the regional and global levels.

Last month, Foreign Minister Downer co-chaired with his Indonesian counterpart, Dr Wirajuda, a highly effective regional ministerial meeting on counter terrorism in Bali. This meeting gave fresh political impetus to the regional campaign against terrorism and identified practical ways of enhancing regional cooperation in the areas of law enforcement, information exchange and legal arrangements.

This work will proceed with vigour through two working groups comprising senior law enforcement practitioners and senior legal officials to enhance cooperation in practical ways.

The Bali meeting also welcomed an Australian/Indonesian initiative to establish a counter terrorism centre in Indonesia – to be known as the Jakarta Centre for Law Enforcement Cooperation (JCLEC) – to which Australia is contributing $38.3 million over five years.

This centre will help build regional counter-terrorism capabilities as well as provide a locus of practical expertise which can be brought to bear on particular terrorist threats or incidents. It is a further example of the close collaboration between the Australian and Indonesian police.

The February Bali meeting followed a similar ministerial conference co-hosted by Australia and Indonesia in Bali in December 2002 where the focus was on steps to combat the financing of terrorism.

The December meeting helped to raise awareness among countries in the region of the many ways in which terrorist organisations acquire and use funds. It also highlighted the various legal and operational means that can be deployed to cut off financial life-line to these organisations.

We are also working through established regional organisations such as APEC, the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), Pacific Islands Forum, and the Asia-Pacific Group on Money Laundering, to strengthen the region's ability to confront terrorism.

This work includes assisting countries to meet their obligations under the Secure Trade in the APEC Region (STAR) initiative and Australian border management initiatives that will make travelling in the region safer – the advance passenger information system (API) and the development of a regional movement alert system (RMAL).

In June 2003 we co-hosted with Singapore an ARF workshop in Darwin on managing the consequences of a terrorist attack.

And we are helping Pacific Islands Forum countries to implement agreed counter-terrorism measures under the Nasonini Declaration on Regional Security. Under this Declaration, Forum members undertook to implement internationally agreed anti-terrorism measures through the enactment of appropriate legislation, among other things.

Australia, in conjunction with the United States and New Zealand, is providing financial support and technical expertise to enable them to do so. Good progress is being made in this area.

The contest of ideas

In its engagement internationally with other governments, Australia makes clear its understanding that the campaign against terror cannot only be fought on the law and order and security fronts.

As crucial as it is, arresting terrorists and disrupting their networks will not, on its own, suffice. It is important that the ideas by which terrorists seek to justify their actions not go unchallenged; that terrorists not be left to exploit the politics of despair to generate support among a wider audience.

This is not to accept the simplistic idea that terrorism has so called 'root causes' that are easily identifiable and resolvable. As a matter of principle, the Australian Government does not accept that anything justifies or legitimises the killing of innocents.

The notion that terrorism is driven by poverty and lack of opportunity is not supported by the fact that a number of the leaders of al-Qaeda and JI come from relatively privileged backgrounds. On the contrary, terrorists typically undermine common human aspirations – by disrupting social and economic advances, sowing fear and insecurity and seeking to impose their will through violence and intimidation.

Furthermore, the 'root causes' thesis misunderstands the purposes of groups aligned with al-Qaeda whose fanatical ideology allows no remedy, but insists either on annihilation or subjugation to their views, including by other Muslims.

In its dealings with regional countries, Australia has taken steps to promote understanding between Muslim and non-Muslim societies. For example, the Australia-Indonesia Institute (AII) is taking an active role in promoting understanding through its Inter-Faith Program, which encourages contact between our countries' Islamic and Christian organisations.

Last year, the Council for Australian-Arab relations was formed to promote economic, political, cultural and social links with Arab countries. It too will help build greater understanding between Australia and Muslim communities in the Middle East.

Australian policies are also aimed at working with the developing world to grasp the economic opportunities afforded by globalisation – important in and of itself, but also in winning the battle of ideas with the extremists.

The Government advocates open economies, strong institutions, sound governance and effective education systems as critical to a country's ability to participate fully in the global marketplace and to translate that into jobs and wealth for its citizens.

The Government has also been at pains to highlight the important distinction between terrorism and Islam in the region. At the same time, we encourage the Muslim mainstream not to cede the agenda to the terrorists but, rather, to speak up – as it has been doing – to condemn terrorism unequivocally.

The global response to a regional problem

Australia's counter-terrorism efforts draw upon the broader international coalition against terrorism, especially strategic partners like the United States, Japan and the United Kingdom which are committed to combating terrorism in Australia's neighbourhood. We welcome their readiness to share this task with Australia and countries of the region as one of the front lines of international terrorism.

Western countries are understandably careful about intruding in a debate which is essentially one within Islam. Terrorists can all too easily exploit for their extreme purposes the measure of distrust of the West – and a sense of dislocation with the processes of modernisation and globalisation - which exists among even mainstream populations in the developing world.

Nevertheless, Australia and others remain able and willing partners for those in the region confronted with the scourge of terrorism at a time when they face other major national challenges. We know the enduring threat means this partnership must be sustainable in the long term.

To the extent possible, we try to ensure that our own approach is coordinated with the external assistance of major partners through mechanisms like APEC's Counter-Terrorism Task Force and the G8's Counter-Terrorism Assistance Group (CTAG).

In addition, we are firmly committed to working within the United Nations to address the ongoing threat of terrorism. The UN has a valuable role to play in setting and monitoring international standards against terrorism, including through international conventions, facilitating counter-terrorism capacity-building assistance, and preventing the financing of terrorism.


The threat from international terrorism remains a most serious one for Australia. All the indications are that we must reckon on a sustained campaign over many years to diminish that threat.

Regionally, terrorist groups like JI show themselves to be capable of adapting to the set-backs following the arrest and prosecution of most of those responsible for the Bali outrage. It retains a potent capacity to inflict harm on Australian interests in South-East Asia. Nor can we discount the possibility of a dangerous threat emerging from splinter groups inspired by the jihadist ideology of al-Qaeda and JI.

Regrettably, we are still in the process of exposing the scale and scope of terrorism in our region, its organisational structures and operational capabilities. A number of JI's known top operatives remain at large.

There remains a premium on effective cooperation between regional countries. Australia continues to work actively for this and can record significant progress, including through the excellent cooperation achieved between Indonesian and Australian authorities.

Australia is seized of the need not only to shut down the active terrorists but to contest the ideas on which they seek to develop broader support. But Australia does not see this as inherently a clash between Muslim and predominantly non-Muslim countries. Indeed, we could not have made the progress we have so far if it had not been for cooperation between such countries.

Finally I should say that we must face the fact that the danger from terrorism to Australians living or travelling in the region and more widely can be serious and may well remain so for some years. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade publishes travel advisories for most destinations Australians travel to. While I have not dwelt on this consular today, I commend this advice to you all. It may be accessed through the web-site

I thank the organisers for this opportunity to place Australia's international efforts to combat terrorism in the context of the broader security issues being addressed by this important conference.

I wish you well in your deliberations.

Last Updated: 19 September 2014
Back to top