Paris attacks: Australia’s terror response must change after coordinated French bombings and shootings, officials say
The terror attacks in Paris show Islamic extremists are changing their tactics and Australian security, intelligence and police officials believe their response also has to change.
Australian agencies are in daily contact with their counterparts in the “Five Eyes” community that combines this nation’s intelligence with that of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and New Zealand.
They also routinely exchange information with France, which is reeling after the attacks left at least 129 people dead.
All have been concerned the next phase of the fight against terror would be against domestic insurgencies: the return of battle-hardened jihadists with war skills learned in Syria and Iraq.
Some officials believe what they saw on the streets of Paris was an example of that kind of insurgency, a coordinated assault with restricted military hardware, like semi-automatic weapons and grenades.
One official told the ABC Australia had to reconsider the tactics used when hostages are taken.
He was not surprised the French police moved swiftly, because, he said, they had no other choice.
The traditional response is to negotiate, to keep hostage-takers talking. That is no longer considered feasible when the terrorists decide at the outset to kill everyone.
Seven of eight of the dead terrorists in Paris detonated suicide vests; it was clearly never their intention to talk.
Their sole aim was to kill as many people as they could and then die.
That poses an extremely difficult new reality for security agencies. All the hostages might die if the police attack, but they will certainly die if they do not.
Each circumstance will be different but all will require rapid, life-and-death decisions.
Police have limited powers to deal with hostage situations
Police should have to weigh the risks for the hostages, but no concern should be shown for the life of the terrorists. In fact, killing the threat should be the objective.
As it stands, in circumstances like the Martin Place siege — where there was a single gunman — police do not have the authority to conduct a sniper-initiated assault.
Premiers will now have to decide if that should be an option.
When there are multiple terrorists and many hostages, like in the Bataclan theatre, the circumstance demands a highly specialised team, which can be rapidly deployed and which has a clear and short chain of command.
Australia has among the best in the world; two teams of highly skilled Special Forces soldiers who train for precisely this kind of scenario. They are our Tactical Assault Groups.
But there is a real issue with deploying the groups because of the division of power within the federation.
At the moment, a premier would have to decide his or her police force could not handle the job and ask the Prime Minister for the troops to be stood up.
Even then, there is some legal uncertainty about authorising troops to use deadly force domestically. Counter-terrorism experts believe these call-out provisions have to be urgently reviewed.
And the community has to become more resilient. It has to accept there will be casualties and some hostages might be killed by those sent to the rescue.
If changes are made, the line of command has to be as short as possible.
So the commander on the ground has a direct line to the Prime Minister or the Chief of the Defence Force, or whoever has been given the authority to say, “go”.
Since May, there has been a federal counter-terror coordinator, former ambassador to Indonesia Greg Moriarty. But he does not have the power to order a counter-terror response.
Main aim to stop atrocities
The community, and the media, also has realised the nature of policing has changed.
A senior officer in the Australian Federal Police says the main game now is simply trying to stop atrocities. That means police will be forced to act before they can gather the evidence for a prosecution.
Suspects will be arrested, detained and then released. Many will never be prosecuted. That is not necessarily a sign police got the wrong guy.
But Australia’s concerns pale beside what is happening in Europe.
The recent tide of refugees has sparked a lot of debate about the Schengen Agreement, which allows freedom of movement across the states of the European Union.
But there is another problem, according to a former European-based diplomat now working in intelligence.
The free movement of people across multiple borders means Europe’s security agencies have no idea who is actually in their country.
The Paris terrorists were probably home grown but they could have come from anywhere in Europe, which is why French president Francois Hollande closed the borders after the attacks.
Europe’s porous borders also make it easier to smuggle weapons.
Australia’s strict border controls mean authorities know who is coming and going and they have been reasonably
successful in keeping military weapons out of the country and out of the hands of terrorists.