Hamas, Aussie’s terror links no risk at home: spy chief

Dominic Giannini |

ASIO continues to be concerned about spontaneous violence, director-general Mike Burgess said.
ASIO continues to be concerned about spontaneous violence, director-general Mike Burgess said.

The ongoing war in the Middle East and allegations an Australian was fighting for a designated terrorist organisation have not heightened the risk of terrorism at home.

The national terrorism threat remained possible, with intelligence agency ASIO concerned about spontaneous violence, the chief spy said.

“No, there’s no reason you should be concerned,” ASIO head Mike Burgess told a Senate hearing late Monday night when asked about an increased risk at home.

Opposition home affairs spokesman James Paterson pressed Mr Burgess on whether he could confirm an Australian man claimed by Hezbollah was fighting for the designated terrorist organisation. 

The government confirmed two Australian citizens – brothers Ibrahim and Ali Bazzi – were killed in an Israeli air strike in southern Lebanon before Christmas.

Hezbollah, allied with Hamas, claimed Ali Bazzi as one of its fighters and he was given a military funeral. 

The government confirming one brother was not connected to Hezbollah but failing to say whether the second was “does seem pretty suggestive there was an Australian fighting for Hezbollah”, Senator Paterson said. 

Mr Burgess questioned what the risk to Australia would be without confirming whether Ali Bazzi was part of the organisation.

Liberal Senator James Paterson reacts during Senate estimates
Senator James Paterson asked whether protests about the Israel-Hamas war could lead to violence. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

“I’ll talk to generics: if there is an Australian overseas fighting for an organisation that the Australian government considers a terrorist organisation, that is a potential concern,” he said.

“But it really depends on where they direct the energy of their ideology and what they believe.

“If that’s not against Australia … that’s not a direct threat to Australia or Australians.”

Senator Paterson also quizzed the spy chief on whether continuing protests over the Israel-Hamas war in Australia could lead to escalating violence.

He pointed to an incident where police recommended members of the Jewish community go home during Shabbat prayers due to protests.

While there were strong emotions about what was happening in the Middle East, Australia’s current terror threat covered the risk of spontaneous violence, Mr Burgess said. 

There was a difference between spontaneous violence and people who harboured violent ideologies, he said.

“We are concerned about, and continue to be concerned about, spontaneous violence and when different sides of protests come together, sometimes there is some heat,” he said. 

“There have been a large number of protests, most of them have been peaceful, some have had situations that you’ve outlined but that doesn’t … mean we raise the terrorism threat level.

“We focus on people with violent ideology that think that’s the answer for their political cause.”

Assistant Foreign Affairs Minister Tim Watt earlier expressed dismay at how the conflict had prevented Australians seeing people who disagreed with their view as human beings.

“People have been using ideologies across the board to justify some pretty appalling behaviour towards people in our community,” he told ABC radio.