After Saturday’s alleged terrorist threat in Sydney to bring down a plane with a homemade bomb, experts are warning that Australia is “primed” for an attack on a passenger jet.
The warning comes after counter-terrorism authorities claimed to have foiled a plot involving an “improvised device”, with four men arrested in a string of raids of five properties in New South Wales.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced on Sunday that airport security had been “enhanced and intensified” at all major Australian airports following the operation.
While details of the alleged plot are yet to be released, several reports have claimed it involved poison gas, while others pointed to an improvised explosive disguised as a kitchen appliance.
The four men arrested will spend up to a week behind bars without charge as police sift through evidence against them.
It is believed the men are two pairs of father and son, all of Lebanese-Australian origin.
Central Queensland University aviation expert Ronald Bishop said the focus on airport security was warranted as the perception of Australia as a “soft target” could make it the newest target for aircraft terrorism.
“It’s one of the things that Australia as a nation we need to focus on [aircraft terrorism] – and have been – is that England has been attacked, France has been attacked, America has got so stringent on airport security that they’ve decided to go to other places,” Mr Bishop told The New Daily.
“Australia will be that next place to go. Australia and Canada.
“Federal police in Australia have been really good at catching them before it happens but I do believe Australia is primed for one – not saying it will happen – but I do believe some terrorist group would be looking at Australia or Canada because they are perceived as soft targets.
“Aircrafts and aviation has always been at the top of the Christmas list for terrorists and that’s because anything that happens on an aeroplane, it gets publicity.”
Mr Bishop compared the increased possibility of a terrorist attack to the recent tragedies in England, which has seen four major attacks between March and June this year.
“That’s one of the things we’re seeing now, just like what’s happening in England lately, it wasn’t just one attack it was three or four, all pretty close to each other and all equally devastating,” he said.
“Usually they come in threes or fours not just one guy shows up and a week on that’s it, it’s something that’s constantly going on.”
How a crackdown on airport security will impact flyers
Screening at Australian airports has intensified and travellers have been told to expect delays, as authorities analyse potential vulnerabilities in airport security.
Mr Turnbull urged people to limit check-in and carry-on luggage and to arrive two hours before domestic flights and three hours before international flights due to heightened security across the country.
Mr Bishop said the measures, which have not been specified, will be in place for a number of weeks.
“The biggest one [measure] is just a show of force,” he said. “If you know someone is going through your bag and they are going to go really deep through your bag and check absolutely everything then you’re probably not going to do anything untoward, you know you’re going to get caught.
“They usually go for a few weeks to check out and make sure they haven’t missed anything.
“Beefing up security puts terrorists on notice and also protects us by finding out any weak spots in our security or anything open that could be exploited.”
Mr Bishop does not expect the increase in security to have a major impact on delays.
“It depends how it is conducted and even if they do conduct something that is fairly stringent I wouldn’t say it would cost more than 10-15 minutes for each passenger.”