Stunned Australians Warned To Expect More Attacks

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:12 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau ( - Australia will observe a national day of mourning next weekend, seven days after a bombing in Bali that some politicians believe could turn out to be the country's worst national tragedy since World War II.

The announcement was made Monday by Prime Minister John Howard, addressing federal parliament.

He told lawmakers that the term "terrorism" was too technical an expression to describe the outrage.

"What happened was barbaric, brutal, mass murder without justification," he said.

Also Monday, Australians were warned that the bombing could be a foreshadow of more terrorist attacks to come.

By late afternoon, 14 Australians were reported among the more than 180 dead, and the whereabouts of 200 more remained unknown.

"There are many Australians unaccounted for, many," Howard told reporters earlier.

"We must therefore prepare ourselves as a nation for the possibility of a significant number of Australian deaths among the fatalities."

The bodies of many of those killed when a car bomb exploded in a popular Indonesian tourist resort are so badly burned that identification is proving a slow process.

The government has urged Australians still in Bali to phone family quickly to assure them they are safe.

Extra flights laid on by the national carrier, Qantas, were bringing large numbers of Australian tourists home early Monday.

At Melbourne international airport Sunday night, travelers watched television screens aghast as news came in of the rising death toll.

Bali is a popular holiday destination for tens of thousands of Australians, and many of those caught up in the attack were footballers enjoying a traditional end-of-season break.

Football clubs in several cities awaited word of missing team-mates.

The question on many lips was: Were Australians directly targeted by the terrorists and if so, why?

Howard's government has been a close ally of the U.S. in its fight against al Qaeda and its Taliban ally in Afghanistan.

Australia also upset many Muslims in Indonesia when it led a peacekeeping force to East Timor after violence erupted following a 1999 U.N.-sponsored referendum favored independence from Jakarta.

Many Indonesians saw the Australian role as a significant factor in the loss of the mostly Roman Catholic territory, which eventually became independent earlier this year.

Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, in a videotaped address broadcast by the Arabic television network al-Jazeera last November, cited the East Timor intervention by "crusader Australian forces" as part of a "war of annihilation" against Islam.

But Australian strategic analyst Kerry Collison said Monday he did not believe the terrorists were aiming to kill Australians specifically.

If they had been, he said, Australia's consulate or Australian businesses there could have made a more obvious target.

More likely, when the bombing plot was being hatched, the terrorists believed the resort was a soft target with a strong likelihood of killing Americans, including possibly U.S. Marines.

"They probably picked this target because of that, and because they'd get so much exposure doing it," Collison said.

"They're trying to wreak havoc in non-Muslim areas, and hitting Bali would certainly achieve that."

Even if Australians weren't specifically the target, Collison said Australians could face more attacks in the future, both in Bali and at home.

Australians were vulnerable to attack, he said, and did not have the level of security experience needed.

Australians have been warned on several occasions recently - by the U.S. Ambassador among others - that they should not be complacent about the possibility of terrorist attack.

Last week, Scotland-based terrorism expert and author of a book about al Qaeda, Rohan Gunaratna, said a small number of al Qaeda operatives may be in place in Australia, based on information gleaned from debriefing al Qaeda and Taliban fighters.

And Australian attorney-general Daryl Williams said on Saturday the U.S. authorities had warned Canberra about the possibility of attacks on power stations and other facilities.

"Recent statements by al Qaeda raise concerns about the possibility of another major terrorist attack and are another reminder that we cannot be complacent and are not immune to such threats," Williams said.

In a statement condemning the bombing, President Bush said Americans' prayers with "with our friends and allies, the people of Australia, who are suffering a grievous personal and national loss."

Addressing the Australian Senate Monday, Defense Minister Robert Hill said the attack in Bali would not cower the nation.

"We must stand firm in our resolve to bring about an end to the threats of terrorism, wherever it lurks."

See related story:
Death Toll Mounts After Deadly Resort Terror Attack (Oct. 14, 2002)

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow