Australia seeks Muslim spies
Sydney - The head of Australia's domestic spy agency said he was seeking more recruits from new migrant communities, particularly among Muslims, to combat the dangers of an attack on home soil.
David Irvine, chief of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (Asio), said there was a "real and persistent threat" of a local extremist attack, with a "worrying trend of home-grown terrorism".
There had been three major plots foiled in the past decade which "would have been the work of home-grown groups, with little or no direct contact with al-Qaeda or its overseas affiliates", with 23 convictions for extremist crimes.
While symbolic, Irvine said the deaths in 2011 of Osama bin Laden and Yemeni-American imam Anwar al-Awlaki had done little to diminish the dangers, and deepening ties with Australia's many and diverse ethnic groups was key.
"Asio needs to recruit more people from within our newly arrived migrant communities," Irvine said in a rare public speech in Sydney on Tuesday night.
"Connected to this is the need for Asio to develop even better outreach into our different ethnic communities, particularly Australian Muslim communities."
But he stressed that Islam was not the enemy, also urging Australians as a whole to refrain from blaming particular groups for a "tiny number of misfits or malcontents" among them.
"My constant message to our valued Islamic community is very simple: 'Asio is not against Islam,' it is against terrorism; against terrorism that kills both Muslims and non-Muslims alike," Irvine said.
"To achieve our common goal of a safe and harmonious community, we need to work with you."
He cited the twin attacks in Norway by anti-Islamist Anders Behring Breivik as a reminder that "the threat to our people can come from different directions, and in different guises - even from those who are blonde and blue eyed".
The spy chief conceded that it was "not always easy" to build trust within migrant groups when "many of those communities come from countries where there may have been good reason to be deeply afraid of intelligence services".
"Ultimately, however, many potential terrorist developments are avoided because Asio and law enforcement are able to work with the communities, on the basis of mutual trust and understanding," Irvine said.
"A large number of Asio's intelligence leads come from within the community."