This bulletin is reissued quarterly and does not suggest an increased threat level. It contains new information on attacks in Pakistan, Belgium, Turkey, Indonesia, Burkina Faso, Mali, Cote d’Ivoire and Somalia.
It should be read in conjunction with country advisories, which provide details on any specific and credible terrorism threats at your destination.
Terrorists continue to call for attacks against Australian interests and those of other countries including the United States, United Kingdom, France, Italy and Germany. Terrorists have called for attacks on civilians, as well as military, police and security services. This represents a continuation of threats by extremist groups aimed at supporting and encouraging 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.
Attacks in Brussels in March 2016 highlight the capacity of terrorists to conduct attacks against soft targets in Western countries with little or no warning.
Throughout 2015 and 2016, militants aligned with terrorist groups in the Middle East used social media and other online platforms to call for attacks against local and western interests in a large number of countries, including in South and Southeast Asia, Europe and North America.
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 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. 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.
Recent events in Belgium, France, United States, Denmark , Canada, Tunisia and Australia highlight the risks posed by individuals motivated by the current situation in Syria and Iraq. Attacks could be carried out by locals or citizens of other countries, including holders of Western passports. A large number of foreigners are currently fighting 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 area in Syria is at National Security website.
A number of terrorist organisations have demonstrated the intent and capability to attack Western interests. Since the 2001 attacks in the US, terrorists have launched major attacks in Bali, Jakarta, Madrid, London, New Delhi, Jakarta, Kampala, Nairobi, Abuja, Volgograd, Moscow, Egypt, Tunis, and Paris,Istanbul, Ankara, Brussels and Lahore that killed and injured a number of foreigners. Additionally, in the period since the 2001 new militant groups have emerged in parts of Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East which have caused a major deterioration in the security environment across these regions.
The terrorist threat to Australians overseas has become more diffuse in recent years as new groups have emerged and the central Al-Qaeda (AQ) organisation weakened. 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.
Types of attacks
Modes of attack by terrorists may include:
- Kidnappings: hostage taking is a long-established method used by terrorist groups to raise money. Significant ransom payments are typically demanded for the kidnapping victim’s release, though most recently a number of hostages taken in Syria have been executed for ideological propaganda purposes, as described in the, Kidnapping threat worldwide bulletin.
- Shootings/stabbings: including attacks using 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 Canada, France and the UK.
- Bombings: including the use of large and small-scale improvised explosive devices against buildings, events or public places. Crude improvised explosive devices were used in Boston in 2013, Bangkok in 2015 and Brussels and Lahore 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 US, Bali, Jakarta, London, Madrid, Paris,Ankara, Istanbul and Brussels.
- 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 2001 attacks in the US.
- 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. Attempts were made to destroy aircraft using explosives in 2001, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2015 and 2016. An explosive device placed on a flight between Sharm el Sheihk in Egypt to St Petersburg killed 224 people on 31 October 2015.
- Unconventional attacks: including the potential use of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear materials to cause harm. A number of terrorist groups have advocated the use of unconventional weapons though this kind of attack is beyond the capability of most groups. 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, 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 hotels, restaurants, nightclubs and other entertainment infrastructure catering to foreign clientele;
- places of worship: including mosques, churches, temples and synagogues of all faiths, as well as religious ceremonies and processions.
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;
- 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 of 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 and Burkina Faso. 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 14 January 2016 attack in central Jakarta demonstrates that terrorists retain the intent to carry out deadly attacks. 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. In recent years authorities have disrupted terrorist cells in Bali, Jakarta and elsewhere in Java, West Nusa Tenggara, Sumatra and South Sulawesi. 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, the authorities have made a number of arrests of persons allegedly involved in attack planning in Malaysia. Southern Philippines-based terrorist groups have the capability to launch attacks and kidnappings throughout the Philippines and in neighbouring parts of Malaysia. Since 2014, a number of foreign nationals have been kidnapped from coastal locations in eastern Sabah, Malaysia, and held captive in the Philippines. Foreigners have also been kidnapped from across Mindanao, including locations as far to the east as Davao, as well as from vessels in the Sulu Sea. Locations such as Palawan, Cebu and other parts of Visayas are also at risk from kidnapping groups. The kidnapping risk in this area is highest in central and western Mindanao, the Zamboanga peninsula (Philippines), 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. There is also a long-standing terrorist threat centred in the southern provinces closest to Malaysia. Attacks by separatists have claimed the lives of more than 6,000 people 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 Lahore in March 2016 killed 70 people and injured hundreds more. 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. In this period, a number of other attacks have targeted the security forces and local civilians. There is reliable information to suggest that militants may be planning to target Australian and Western interests in Bangladesh.
Middle East and North Africa
- The ongoing civil war in Syria and emergence of terrorist safe havens has led to a profound destabilisation in the region. The territorial gains made by the terrorist group ISIL in northern Syria and Iraq has prompted 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.
- 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 a tourist areas in Istanbul which killed 18 foreigners. 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 spillover 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.
- Since November 2015, attacks on hotels in Bamako, Mali, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, and at a resort near Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, killed more than 71 people, including a number of foreigners. Australian officials visiting these countries have adopted enhanced security procedures.
* 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. 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 Mali,Niger, Burkina Faso and Cote d’Ivoire, and remote areas in the south of Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. Ongoing civil 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.
- 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.
- There is a continuing threat of attack in Yemen and elsewhere in the Arabian Peninsula from the activities of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The group has carried out a number of major attacks in Yemen, including on Western interests, and has been involved in numerous kidnappings of Westerners.
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). 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 bulletin 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, including on the UN building in 2010. Thousands of people have been killed. 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 currently 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 Glasgow, London, Madrid, and Moscow, Oslo, Volgograd,Paris and Brussels. Targets have included public transport and transport hubs as well as public places frequented by foreigners. European security services are taking robust measures in response to the current threat. The attacks on the offices of Charlie Hebdo and on Jewish interests in Paris in January 2015 and the coordinated attacks of November 2015, and shootings in Copenhagen in February 2015 underscore the ongoing risk of attacks by individuals and small groups.
Rest of the World
- Groups such as FARC and Shining Path have operated in Colombia and Peru for decades. Terrorist attacks occur regularly in Colombia, and we encourage travellers to read the travel advice for Colombia to understand the risks of travel.
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
Travellers can get additional information on the threat of international terrorism from:
For business travellers
The 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.
The 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.
- follow us on Facebook and Twitter.