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Australia warns "terrorist attack is likely" over fears of returning jihadists

The Australian Prime Minister said that the level equals to the terror threat level in the United Kingdom.

AUSTRALIA HAS RAISED its terror threat level to “high” for the first time in a decade on growing concern about Australian jihadists returning from fighting in Iraq and Syria.

The heightened alert after years on “medium” officially means a “terrorist attack is likely” and comes after repeated government warnings that attacks could happen.

“There are people with the intent and the capability to mount attacks here in Australia,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott told a press conference.

The lifting of the threat level was “not based on knowledge of a specific attack plan but rather a body of evidence that points to the increased likelihood of a terrorist attack in Australia”, Abbott added in a joint statement with Attorney-General George Brandis.

Islamic State

“Security and intelligence agencies are concerned about the increasing number of Australians working with, connected to, or inspired by terrorist groups such as ISIL (Islamic State), Jabhat Al-Nusrah, and Al-Qaeda,” he said.

The threat they pose has been increasing for more than a year.

The “high” alert is just below “extreme” — the top level — which would indicate a “terrorist attack is imminent or has occurred”.

It followed a similar decision by Britain in August, which raised its terror threat risk level to “severe” meaning an attack is thought “highly likely”.

Abbott said his country’s alert was now “broadly comparable to the threat level in the United Kingdom”.

Australia Terrorism Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott AP Photo / Lai Seng Sin, File AP Photo / Lai Seng Sin, File / Lai Seng Sin, File

The government believes up to 60 Australians are fighting alongside jihadists for Islamic State, while another 100 were actively working to support the movement at home.

In Ireland, 25 to 30 individuals are believed to have travelled to fight in Syria.

Abbott said based on previous experience with Australians who went to Afghanistan and Pakistan to join the Taliban, they had retained the “inclination to engage in terrorist activity” when they returned home.

Abbott said Australians “should continue to go about their lives” despite the increased alert, although security would be stepped up.

“What people will probably notice is more security at airports, more security at ports, more security at military bases, more security at government buildings and more security at public events,” he said.

Canberra recently announced a Aus$630 million counter-terrorism package that would boost support for security agencies such as the Australian Federal Police, spy agencies and customs.

- © AFP, 2014

Read: CIA triples its estimate of the number of Islamic State fighters >

More: New study says Ireland has the second highest per capita jihadist rate >

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