New anti-terror units working at Australia’s two largest airports have intercepted a person of interest, the prime minister has revealed.
Tony Abbott told parliament the units, operating at Sydney and Melbourne since last week, would soon be introduced to all Australian international airports to monitor the movements of travellers on security watch lists.
Biometric screening of passengers will also be introduced at all airports.
The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service did not immediately supply details of the person of interest, or say whether they had been charged.
The Australian government is giving high priority to reducing the domestic terrorism threat created by home-grown extremists who travel to Syria and Iraq to fight.
“I’m advised that these new units have already intercepted at least one person of interest,” Mr Abbott told MPs. “This government will do – I’m sure this parliament will do – everything that is reasonably necessary to keep out country safe.”
Australia and the United States will raise the need for governments to co-operate against the common threat at the United Nations General Assembly in September.
Mr Abbott conceded this month that the nation’s border security was not good enough after a second suspected jihadist flew to the Middle East using a brother’s passport.
A 19-year-old Sydney man slipped out of the country, but was detained on arrival in the United Arab Emirates and deported. A notorious terrorist left Sydney in a similar security breach in December last year.
The government has proposed tough new counter-terrorism laws as well as 630 million Australian dollars (£353m) in additional resources over four years to help intelligence and law enforcement agencies cope with the scores of Australians who return home after committing terror acts overseas.
Some Islamic leaders argue Muslims, a minority of 500,000 in Australia’s population of 23 million, were being unfairly targeted.
David Irvine, director general of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, Australia’s top spy agency, told the National Press Club on Wednesday that 60 Australians were fighting in Iraq and Syria for the al Qaida offshoots Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nursa, also known as the Nusra Front. He said another 15 Australian fighters had been killed, including two young suicide bombers.
Mr Irvine said another 100 Australians were actively supporting extremist groups from within Australia, recruiting fighters and grooming suicide bomber candidates as well as providing funds and equipment.
“In the past two years, the situation in Syria and Iraq has radically complicated the (terrorist) threat, adding energy and allure to the extremist Islamic narrative,” he said.
Dozens of Australian fighters had already returned home, and “a good number of these” remained a concern to security authorities, he added.
The Australian and US governments have signed an information-sharing agreement to bolster their ability to confirm identities of foreign travellers at airports.
The agreement will enable two-way information sharing, the Australian government said.