Spy boss warns of terror strike
By CNN's Grant Holloway
SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- Australia's spy chief has warned a "catastrophic" terror attack -- possibly involving biological, chemical or nuclear weapons -- is a certainty and that the war against terrorism is far from over.
Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) director general Dennis Richardson said such an attack was "only a matter of time" and that U.S. fears of such an event should not be underestimated by the rest of the world.
Richardson made his comments in an off-the-record speech Tuesday last week -- the day a suicide bomber struck a hotel in central Jakarta -- but the details of his thoughts were only made available to media Wednesday.
His warning was backed up by Australian prime minister John Howard, who said the comments reflected "the kind of world we live in".
"Nobody should underestimate how much the world changed on the 11th of September 2001," Howard told Sky Television News Wednesday.
The news also comes as the FBI reveals it has arrested three men for allegedly plotting to smuggle a shoulder-launched surface-to-air missile into the United States. (Full story)
"There is genuine concern that a catastrophic attack is a certainty and only a matter of time -- a point on which I'm inclined to agree," Richardson said in his speech.
He said that despite more than half al Qaeda's leadership being killed or captured, the group still had considerable, real global capacity.
"I would make just one observation: the terrorism issue is going to be with us for quite a while," he said.
The ASIO boss also said that Australia was a target for terrorist attacks because "we are seen as part of the Zionist/Christian conspiracy -- in other words, because of who we are".
He added that Australia's tight alliance with the United States and the nation's close and early involvement in the war on terrorism also contributed to making it a target.
The Australian government has been a staunch supporter of U.S. policy on terrorism, sending troops and military support to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Referring to terrorist attacks in Southeast Asia, Richardson admitted intelligence agencies had failed to identify the transition of Jemaah Islamiyah from an extremist organization to a terrorist group in late 2001.
Jemaah Islamiyah -- which is believed to have links to al Qaeda -- has been blamed for a string of attacks in the region, including the October 12 Bali blasts which killed over 200 people, and the Jakarta hotel bombing last week.
However, he said Jemaah Islamiyah's biggest mistake was the Bali attack because that event gave resolve and commitment to the Indonesian government to fight terrorism and outraged the Indonesian people.
It also led to unprecedented cooperation by Indonesian law enforcement and intelligence agencies.