Terrorism emerges in Australia

As Australia approached the 1970s, ASIO’s investigations into threats to Australia’s security were increasingly expanding beyond our early work investigating communist interference. We had to balance our traditional focus on countering espionage with new operational priorities as a series of incidents signalled the emergence of politically motivated violence in Australia.

The long-running conflict between the then Yugoslav Government and Croatian separatists translated into violence in Australia with the bombing of the Yugoslav Consulate in Sydney in June 1969. This violence continued through to the mid-1970s—including the bombing of the Yugoslav General Trade and Tourist Agency building in Sydney in 1972—by which time other global events had led additional groups to engage in terrorist activity in Australia to further their own causes.

During the 1970s, Israeli diplomats and other Jewish interests in Australia became the targets of a series of bombings and other acts of violence as tensions in the Middle East escalated. ASIO had also begun to investigate a number of other groups—nationalist and separatist groups, ideologically driven groups and religiously motivated groups—which had begun operating in small numbers in Australia and fundraising and supporting violent activities offshore.

In the 1980s, the Australian terrorism environment was still heavily influenced by major events playing out elsewhere in the world. Continuing tensions in the Middle East led to a series of attacks against Israeli and Jewish interests in Australia, while separatist groups fighting the Turkish Government carried out several bombings and assassinated the Turkish Consul-General in Sydney in 1980. The Iranian revolution in November 1979 led to the formation of several pro-Iranian terrorist groups such as Hizballah, whose supporters in Australia began providing finances and other support to Hizballah’s campaigns overseas.

Despite these incidents, it was a bomb exploding in a garbage bin and killing a man outside Sydney’s Hilton Hotel in February 1978 that brought terrorism to the collective attention of the Australian people. The bomb, targeting a Commonwealth Heads of Government Regional Meeting occurring at the hotel, was widely believed to be the work of the religious sect Ananda Marga, who at the time were in conflict with the Indian Government. Known as ‘the Hilton bombing’, this event led to significant changes in Australia’s counter-terrorism arrangements, including placing the investigation of terrorism squarely into ASIO’s mandate.

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