THE terror that gripped Paris overnight could be repeated in Australia, security experts have warned.
Deakin University’s Professor Greg Barton said the ability of extremist groups to transform young men into ruthless killers posed a growing threat, and spy agencies needed to boost their grassroots intelligence.
“It’s quite likely we’ve got a case where some kid has been radicalised over months or weeks, not years. And that’s very hard to fight against,” Prof Barton told the Daily Telegraph.
“It’s the capacity to quickly radicalise people that no one’s seen coming.”
Prof Barton said Islamic State appeared to have “crossed a threshold” and taken its operations “into the realm of Al Qaida” with the Paris attacks, with an audacity and level of co-ordination that should leave us all worried.
He said the bombers appeared to have evaded detection by going “off the grid” and avoiding electronic communication methods.
“They’re meeting face-to-face in the migrant suburbs of Paris, they’re passing handwritten notes, and they’re probably moving very quickly,” Prof Barton said.
Asked what the chances were of a similar attack happening in Australia, he said that “going old school”, as organised crime networks had been doing for years, was “an easy thing to do”.
“We’ve become so enamoured of the power of digital surveillance that we forget that intelligence is really, at the end of the day, about human intelligence, having eyes and ears on the ground in the community.”
He said this posed a huge challenge to authorities, and that spy agency ASIO was struggling to recruit people with sufficient expertise in traditional intelligence methods.
“We’re going to have to shift more towards that, and have less confidence that digital security is going to protect us.”
Prof Barton said authorities needed to to work with families in at-risk communities and place “more human resources” on the ground.
He said the fact the Paris massacre was so highly co-ordinated did not bode well for French authorities, given the nation’s “unprecedented security crackdown”.
Former ASIS agent Warren Reed told news.com.au the Paris attacks, which were “almost certainly” instigated by Islamic State, should serve as a warning for Australians.
“For so many attacks to come together in a co-ordinated cluster, in a major capital that has experienced this sort of thing before only recently, means that you have a highly organised, sophisticated and ruthless central co-ordinator somewhere there in Paris,” he said.
“It would appear that these attacks have been co-ordinated through a central cell there in Paris that is able to do something like this — and that’s very frightening.”
Mr Reed, who served as the head of the Indonesia desk of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, said Australian counter terrorism authorities would be taking heed of the attacks and their implications for a potential repeat on our shores.
He said intelligence agencies and police were acting to prevent a similar attack, and that Australians should take the ongoing terror threat seriously.
“We all have to be alert,” Mr Reed said.
Mr Reed said while Islamic State was known for the ruthless beheadings broadcast over Twitter from Syria and Iraq, its most disturbing incarnation was in the hearts and minds of citizens in liberal democracies.
“These people are amongst us, and Paris illustrates that,” he said.
“That’s the horrifying thing.”
Online supporters of Islamic State have posted celebratory Tweets about the unprecedented attacks, which killed more than 120 people.
Reports of suspicious or unusual activity can be made anonymously to the national security hotline on 1800 123 400.