Australia raises terror alert to ‘high’ on Mideast fears

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Australia on Friday raised its terror threat level to “high” for the first time in a decade on growing concern about Australian fighters 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.

“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”.