This bulletin should be read in conjunction with individual country advisories, which provide details on any specific and credible terrorism threats at your destination.
Travel advice explained also outlines ways to manage risk for our country levels.
Nature of the terrorist threat
Terrorism is violence aimed at achieving political or ideological objectives. Attacks can be centrally directed from a structured organisation or network or by smaller groups or individuals acting without any direct external control (the so-called 'lone wolf').
There is a continuing and long-standing threat of terrorist attack across the world. Since 2000, there has been a nine-fold increase in the number of deaths from terrorism, rising to 32,685 in 2014 (sourced from Institute for Economics and Peace). The countries with the most number of attacks include Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria.
While locals of foreign countries are often most impacted, numerous terrorist groups have demonstrated the intent and capability to target and attack Western interests.
The terrorist threat to Australians overseas has become more diffuse in recent years as new groups have emerged, individuals have become self-radicalised, and existing groups such as Al-Qaeda (AQ) remain a threat. At the same time, terrorist safe havens have emerged in Mali, Libya, Nigeria, Somalia, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. This affords a wider range of groups the opportunity to plan more sophisticated attacks.
Recent events in France, Bangladesh, Turkey, United States, and Australia highlight the risks posed by individuals motivated by the current situation in Syria and Iraq.
Australia and Australians are viewed by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and other terrorist groups as a target for terrorist attacks. This threat extends worldwide. Even in cases where attacks may not specifically target Australian interests, Australians can, and have been, harmed in indiscriminate attacks or attacks aimed at others.
Social media and online platforms are a primary vehicle to support and encourage attacks in western countries and against Western interests elsewhere.
These calls are intended to motivate sympathisers to attack Western interests, often in unsophisticated but lethal ways. The attack in Nice in July 2016 highlights the capacity of terrorists to conduct such attacks against soft targets in Western countries with no warning. Attacks in San Bernadino and Orlando in the United States also highlight how individuals can radicalise quickly, under the radar of local authorities.
As seen from recent events, celebrations or events surrounding significant dates for Muslims (i.e. Ramadan), Christians (i.e. Christmas and Easter) or even national days (i.e. Bastille Day) may be targets for attacks.
A large number of foreigners continue to fight in Syria and Iraq. Information on the action taken by the Australian Government under the Criminal Code Act (1995) against Australian fighters and on the declared areas in Syria and Iraq is at the
National Security website.
Types of attacks
Modes of attack by terrorists may include one or a combination of the following:
Kidnappings: hostage taking is a long-established terrorist tactic. Significant ransom payments are typically demanded for the kidnapping victim's release, though a number of hostages taken have been executed for ideological propaganda purposes, as described in the
Armed attackers: the use of weapons such as firearms or bladed weapons, often against symbolic targets such as members of the security forces, or against unarmed civilians. Such attacks have been carried out in London, Belgium, Ottawa, Dhaka and Paris in recent years, including in November 2015 when attacks in Paris principally involving firearms resulted in at least 129 deaths.
Vehicle attacks: In recent years, there have been several attacks using vehicles to run down civilians in crowded places or target military or police personnel. Such attacks have been carried out in Germany, France, Canada and the United Kingdom.
Bombings: including the use of large and small-scale improvised explosive devices against buildings, events or public places. Improvised explosive devices were used in Boston in 2013, Bangkok in 2015 and Brussels and Istanbul in 2016.
Suicide operations: where attackers detonate explosives or launch direct attacks in the expectation of death. Since 2001, mass casualty suicide attacks have occurred in the United States, Bali, Jakarta, London, Madrid, Paris, Ankara, Istanbul, Brussels and Cairo. Sometimes women and children are used to conduct these attacks as they may attract less attention from security forces.
Hijackings: where civilian/commercial aircraft and other transport infrastructure are seized and hostages taken. This can include aircraft being used as weapons, such as the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States.
Other attacks on commercial aircraft and transport: including attacks using explosives smuggled on board aircraft, portable anti-aircraft weapons (MANPADs), and using explosives-laden vessels against shipping, trains, aircraft or other forms of transport. Terrorists have demonstrated a continuing capacity to evolve their tactics and attack methods to seek to defeat changes in aviation security. A number of attempts have been made to destroy aircraft using explosives. An explosive device placed on a flight between Sharm el Sheihk in Egypt to St Petersburg killed 224 people in October 2015.
Unconventional attacks: including the potential use of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear materials to cause harm. Some terrorist groups have advocated the use of unconventional weapons, though developing this capability remains difficult. An attack using sarin took place in a Tokyo subway in 1995, and the UN has confirmed that sarin and other chemical weapons have been used in the Syria conflict since 2013. Militants may have used crude chemical weapons in Iraq.
Common targets for terrorist attacks
Terrorists may target:
local government interests: including symbols, offices and infrastructure associated with national or local governments, public transport, military and security forces bases;
identifiably Western interests: including embassies, consulates, airlines, foreign oil and gas infrastructure, premises of multinational companies (including employee residential compounds) and international schools;
places of mass gathering: including public buildings and infrastructure such as shopping malls, hotels, markets, public transport terminals, airports, tourist sites and public areas;
gatherings of Westerners: including at hotels, restaurants, nightclubs and other entertainment infrastructure catering to foreign clientele;
places of worship: including mosques, churches, temples and synagogues, as well as religious ceremonies and processions of all faiths.
Travellers should be aware that significant dates, anniversaries, religious festivals and political events (such as elections) are considered symbolic by terrorists and have been used in the past to mount attacks. Terrorists have also conducted attacks in response to broader international political or social developments, such as the release of films and cartoons considered to be offensive.
To reduce your exposure you should:
- research your proposed destination before you book, such as by regularly checking the country travel advice and
subscribing to the advice;
- ensure your itinerary does not include any areas where the travel advisory advises against travel; this may also include border areas or other locations within an otherwise low-risk country:
- consider if you need to be travelling to areas assessed as 'reconsider your need to travel' or, if you persist, take additional precautions;
- be aware that if the travel advice level changes after you have booked, but before you have departed, you may be able to make a claim on your travel insurance policy;
- be prepared to postpone or cancel activities for safety reasons;
- monitor the news in the country and region you plan to visit to identify any issues that might affect your safety, including knowing about symbolic days or political events to avoid;
- be vigilant in public areas and places that attract foreigners and Westerners, such as embassies, hotels, restaurants, bars, nightclubs and identifiably Western interests:
- avoid areas with poor security;
- identify emergency exits and have an action plan in the event of a security threat;
- have a telephone and emergency contact information with you at all times;
- in high threat locations, consider obtaining professional security advice and ensure that you adhere to strict security procedures, which may include:
- avoiding routines that make you an easy target – vary the time and route of your regular journeys;
- considering ways of minimising your profile;
- undertaking formal risk assessments.
Attacks harming Australians
Since 2001, over 100 Australians have been killed in terrorist attacks in public places. These attacks include:
- the attack in Tunis on the Bardo National Museum on 18 March 2015
- the attack in Nairobi on Westgate Mall in 2013
- the attacks in Jakarta on the Marriott and Ritz Carlton Hotels in 2009
- the attacks in Mumbai on the Taj and Trident Hotels in 2008
- Bali bombings in 2005
- the Jakarta Marriott bombing of 2003
- the Bali nightclub bombings of 2002
- the World Trade Center attacks in New York in 2001.
Over the past decade, Australians have also been kidnapped and held hostage by terrorists in Somalia, Syria, the southern Philippines, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Afghanistan and Yemen. Substantial ransoms have been demanded for their release. The Australian Government's longstanding policy is that it does not make payments or concessions to kidnappers. The Australian Government considers that paying a ransom increases the risk of further kidnappings, including of other Australians.
Regional terrorism threat
Terrorist attacks can happen anywhere in the world. The following information focuses on countries and risks most relevant to Australian travellers.
Indonesia: The January 2016 attack in central Jakarta demonstrates that terrorists retain the intent to carry out deadly attacks. A November 2016 attack on a church in East Kalimantan, killing one, demonstrates the interest of militants in attacking places of worship. Local police continue to disrupt terrorist cells in Bali, Jakarta and elsewhere in Java, West Nusa Tenggara, Sumatra and South Sulawesi. In the past, terrorists have launched a number of attacks against Indonesian security forces and locations frequented by foreigners such as nightclubs, restaurants, hotels and embassies. Major attacks have been carried out in Bali and Jakarta, killing a large number of foreigners, including many Australians. We continue to receive information that indicates that terrorists may be planning attacks in Indonesia, which could take place anywhere at any time.
Philippines/Malaysia: Since 2015, authorities have made a number of arrests of persons involved in attack planning in
Malaysia. In 2016, Malaysian authorities arrested a number of individuals alleged to be involved in planning attacks in Malaysia. An ISIL-claimed attack on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur in June 2016 caused a number of injuries. Southern Philippines-based terrorist groups have the capability to launch attacks and kidnappings throughout the
Philippines and in neighbouring parts of Malaysia. Two foreign nationals sailing between Malaysia and Indonesia were attacked in November 2016. One was killed and the other kidnapped. Since 2014, a number of foreign nationals have been kidnapped from these coastal locations, and some have been beheaded. The kidnapping risk in this area is highest in central and western Mindanao, the Zamboanga peninsula, the Sulu Sea and between Sandakan and Tawau in eastern Sabah (Malaysia).
Thailand: A bomb attack at the Erawan shrine central Bangkok killed 20 people and injured over 120 in August 2015. In August 2016, over a dozen bombings and arson attacks occurred in multiple locations causing four deaths and over thirty injuries. Incidents occurred at locations frequented by tourists, including Hua Hin, Patong Beach and Loma Park in Phuket, Phang Nga, Trang, and Surat Thani. There is also a long-standing terrorist threat centred in the southern border provinces closest to Malaysia. Attacks by separatists have claimed the lives of more than 6,000 people in southern Thailand in the past decade. For this reason we recommend against all travel to the provinces of Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat and Songkhla, or overland by train or road to and from the Malaysian border through these provinces, due to high levels of ongoing violence.
South and West Asia
- Attacks by terrorist groups across
Afghanistan and Pakistan remain a regular occurrence, targeting both local government and Western interests. An attack in Peshawar, Pakistan, in October 2016 killed at least 60 people and injured many more. Three Australians were kidnapped in
Afghanistan in 2016. Australians remain at high threat of kidnapping in all parts of Afghanistan and the parts of Pakistan closest to Afghanistan, including Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. A number of major attacks have been launched in recent years against hotels in Pakistan and Afghanistan that cater to Western visitors. Security arrangements for Australian Embassy staff in Kabul are at a high level at all times.
- Although less frequent, terrorist groups active in
India have previously demonstrated the intent and capability to attack locations such as hotels, restaurants and public markets in major Indian cities where Westerners congregate. Australians were killed in a major coordinated attack in Mumbai in 2008.
- Since September 2015, a number of foreigners have been murdered and injured in
Bangladesh in attacks that have been claimed by terrorists in Syria. For example, 18 foreigners were killed in an attack in Dhaka in July 2016. A number of other attacks have targeted the security forces and local civilians since 2015. There is reliable information to suggest that militants may be planning to target Australian and Western interests in Bangladesh.
- The ongoing civil war in
Syria and emergence of terrorist safe havens has led to a profound destabilisation in the region, such as recent attacks in the border areas of
Jordan. ISIL continues to hold territory in northern Syria and Iraq, prompting military action by a number of Western and regional governments including Australia. This has increased the likelihood of reprisal attacks by ISIL supporters across the world. Australians in Syria and Iraq, including Iraqi Kurdistan, remain at significant risk of terrorist attack and kidnapping. Westerners kidnapped in Syria have been executed for propaganda purposes. Australian businesses and NGOs should have robust security arrangements.
- There is a serious threat of attack in
Yemen and elsewhere in the Arabian Peninsula from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Despite territorial losses, AQAP continues to launch a range of attacks including bombings, kidnappings and assassinations, some of which have targeted foreign intersts. ISIL's affiliates in
Saudi Arabia and
Yemen continue to conduct attacks against Shia and local security interests, and there is a risk that foreign individuals will be targeted or incidentally harmed in the ongoing violence.
- A number of terrorist attacks have occurred in major cities in
Turkey since October 2015. This includes three large suicide bombings in Ankara that killed a total of 175 people and two suicide bombings in tourist areas in Istanbul which killed 18 foreigners. An attack at Istanbul's Attaturk airport killed 45 people and injured more than 200 in June 2016. We continue to receive information that indicates that terrorists may be planning attacks in Turkey which could take place at any time.
- The fragile security environment across
Lebanon has deteriorated significantly as a result of the conflict in Syria. The spill over of violence has exacerbated tensions between Sunni and Shia groups including Hezbollah, and major attacks have occurred in Beirut, the Beka'a Valley and areas near Syria. Travellers to Lebanon should monitor the travel advice closely as the level of advice changes frequently.
North and West Africa
- In recent years, the security environment across
North Africa and the Sahel region has deteriorated due to the activities of terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in Mali and neighbouring countries, the ongoing conflict in
Libya and the situation in Iraq and Syria. ISIL (Sinai) now operates in
Egypt and other armed groups have carried out attacks across the country. In December 2016, an attack on a church in Cairo killed 25. Other attacks have recently occurred close to the Great Pyramids.
- AQIM has kidnapped a number of westerners from locations across the region and continues to threaten to attack western interests. Military intervention in Mali in 2012 by France and other countries against an AQIM safe haven has dispersed militants across the broader region, where they now pose a threat in
Burkina Faso and
Cote d'Ivoire, and remote areas in the south of
Libya. Conflict in Libya and emerging ungoverned spaces has led to a number of attacks on Western interests and a string of kidnappings of westerners by groups associated with AQ and ISIL. Since November 2015, attacks on hotels in Bamako,
Burkina Faso, and at a resort near Abidjan,
Cote d'Ivoire, killed more than 71 people, including a number of foreigners.
- Two terrorist attacks against locations frequented by foreigners in
Tunisia in 2015 killed 60 people, mainly foreign tourists. We continue to receive information that indicates that terrorists may be planning attacks in Tunisia which could take place at any time. Further terrorist attacks are likely, including in tourist areas.
East and West Africa
- The ongoing military operations in
Somalia against the Al-Shabaab terrorist organisation has destabilised the security environment in the wider region. Somalia-based terrorists have threatened to attack the interests of East African Governments supporting the African Union Mission in Somalia. These governments include
Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti and Uganda. Major terrorist attacks linked to the situation in Somalia have occurred in Kampala (2010), Nairobi (2013), Djibouti (2014) and Garissa (2015). Al-Shabaab was responsible for an explosion on board an airliner departing Mogadishu airport in February 2016. Terrorist attacks have been disrupted in Ethiopia. The situation in Somalia has caused a decline in the security environment along the coast of Kenya and for mariners in the Horn of Africa and Indian Ocean. See our
Piracy page for details.
- In recent years the Boko Haram (BH) terrorist organisation has carried out a number of major attacks in the north of
Nigeria as well as in Abuja. Thousands of people have been killed. In December 2016, two girl suicide bombers attacked a market in the northeast, killing more than 50 people. BH has kidnapped foreign nationals in Nigeria, as well as neighbouring countries, and has demanded significant ransoms for their release. BH has links to AQIM and AQ, and recently pledged allegiance to ISIL.
- We assess that a heightened risk of terrorist attack exists in a number of European countries due to the conflict in Syria and Iraq. In the past decade, major terrorist attacks have occurred in a number of European cities, such as
Moscow, Oslo, Volgograd, Paris, Brussels, Nice and Berlin. Targets have included public transport and transport hubs as well as public places frequented by foreigners. On 19 December 2016 a truck drove through a crowded evening Christmas market in Berlin, causing a number of deaths and injuries. An attack in July 2016 in Germany, involving a radicalised person attacking train commuters with an axe, underscores the ongoing risk of attacks by individuals and small groups.
Rest of the World
- In September 2016, an improvised explosive device placed by a lone attacker injured 31 people in New York (Manhattan), in the
United States. Terrorist-related shootings have occurred in the United States in 2016. On 30 November 2016, the Colombian Government ratified a peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) –
Colombia's largest insurgent group. However, the other insurgents are yet to reach similar agreements, including the National Liberation Army (ELN), which could carry out attacks against government interests and critical infrastructure.
Peru's Shining Path group remains active in parts of Peru and launches occasional attacks against government targets.
Credible terrorist threats are reflected in the travel advice
If the Australian Government has any specific and credible information on terrorist attack planning, this will appear in the relevant country-specific advisory at smartraveller.gov.au. We encourage Australians who are planning to travel overseas to subscribe to this free service before travelling, so that you stay informed on the latest risks. Terrorist attacks may occur without warning and in areas where the risk of terrorist attack has not been previously highlighted.
Where to get additional information
Additional information on the threat of international terrorism is available from:
For business travellers
advice for Australian business travellers provides tips on risks for Australian employers and individual business travellers to consider as part of their routine risk assessment process for short-term overseas travel for meetings and conferences, longer-term deployments overseas and travel to high-threat remote locations.
ASIO Business Liaison Unit provides credible, intelligence-backed information on matters which may affect the security of Australian businesses in offshore locations.
For all travellers
Be a smart traveller. Before heading overseas:
- organise comprehensive
travel insurance and check what circumstances and activities are not covered by your policy
- register your travel and contact details, so we can contact you in an emergency
- subscribe to this travel advice to receive free email updates each time it's reissued
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