June 28, 2005

Australia conducts more anti-terror raids

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian anti-terror officials haveraided homes in major cities for the second time in a week,officials said on Tuesday, but refused to comment on reportsthe raids involved Islamic extremists and plots to attacklandmarks.

Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said the AustralianSecurity Intelligence Organization (ASIO) executed searchwarrants on homes in Sydney and Melbourne on Monday, butrefused to give details.

"We do not target Muslims, we target people of interest.Nobody is targeted because of their religion," Ruddock toldreporters when asked Islamic extremists were targeted.

Australia has steadily beefed up its anti-terrorism lawsunder conservative Prime Minister John Howard, a close U.S.ally, since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

The latest raids, which again did not result in anydetentions or arrests, sparked criticism of Australia's toughnew security laws which allow security agencies to raid homesand detain people suspected of having information aboutterrorism.

Former conservative prime minister Malcolm Fraser said thegovernment's post-Sept. 11 anti-terrorism policies had createda "secret police" and a culture of fear.

"You can be arrested because ASIO think you know something... that turns ASIO into some sort of secret police," Frasertold local radio.

Fraser said Howard's government had "frightened theAustralian community about the prospect of terrorist attacksand therefore anyone who opposes those measures is seen to besoft on terrorism."

But Ruddock said the raids were legitimateinformation-gathering exercises because Australians had beenthe target of "terrorist activity" in the past five years.

"I can assure you of this, that issues they are addressingare the ones of utmost seriousness" said Ruddock.

Australia has never suffered a major terror attack on homesoil, but 88 Australians were among 202 people killed in theOctober 2002 nightclub bombings on the Indonesian island ofBali.

The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reported that thelatest raids were aimed at deterring suspected Islamicextremists "from graduating to terrorist activities."

The Australian newspaper said three homes had been targetedin the latest raids in Sydney, Australia's largest city, in anattempt to find material linking known Islamic extremists toplots against Melbourne landmarks.

It said at least two other homes in Melbourne were alsoraided. Both newspapers based their reports on unidentifiedsources which linked the latest raids to those last week.

Australian media reported last week's raids were aimedagainst Islamic extremists who were planning possible attackson targets such as the stock exchange building and trainstations in Melbourne and the Sydney Harbour Bridge and SydneyOpera House.