Attorney-General George Brandis has raised fresh concerns about the terrorist threat posed by the Syrian civil war, saying several Australians have taken up senior leadership roles in the conflict.
In a speech in Washington, Senator Brandis said the Syrian war highlighted the ongoing threat of terrorism more than any other recent conflict.
Terrorist activity and training were taking place “behind the fog” of the conflict, he warned in his address to the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
While Australians involving themselves in foreign wars was not new, he said the difference with the Syrian conflict was the scale of the problem.
Per capita, Australia is one of the largest sources of foreign fighters from countries outside the region, with between 120 and 150 Australians believed to be taking part.
“We also know that Australians are taking up senior leadership roles in the conflict,” he said.
“This shows that as a nation we need to address this issue early, in order to prevent individuals from travelling to participate in that and other foreign conflicts.”
Pointing to the recent arrest of two Sydney men for their involvement in the recruitment of Australians to fight in Syria, Senator Brandis said Australian authorities continued to monitor the financing and facilitation of terrorist activity stemming from Australia.
“I cannot stress enough that international engagement, intelligence collection and information sharing will continue to be vital to this effort,” he said.
The attorney-general also hit out at Edward Snowdon as a “traitor”, dismissing descriptions of the US intelligence leaker as a whistleblower or “folk hero”.
He called for continued intelligence co-operation between the UK, Canada, New Zealand, US and Australia in the “post-Snowdon environment”.
“That collaboration must continue unaffected by the Snowden fallout and I am confident that it will,” he said.