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Terrorist threat worldwide

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Nature ​​​of the terrorist threat

Terrorist attacks are motivated by extremist ideology, including from religious, right wing, left wing, separatist or nationalist individual or groups.

Australia and Australians are viewed by some terrorist groups, including the Islamic State (IS) and al-Qa'ida as a target for 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.

Crowded places remain an attractive terrorist target and do not require advanced capability to attack. Terrorist attacks against crowded places have previously occurred in several cities globally.

Attacks harming Australians

Since 2001,  more than 100 Australians have been killed in terrorist attacks in public places.  Recent attacks where Australians have been killed include:

  • the attacks in Sri Lanka in April 2019
  • the attack in Barcelona in August 2017
  • the attacks on London Bridge and the Borough Market in June 2017
  • the attack on the Karrada Peninsula in Baghdad in May 2017

Australians have also been kidnapped and held hostage by terrorists. The Australian Government does not make payments or concessions to kidnappers.

Common targets for terrorist attacks

Terrorist groups and their sympathisers are increasingly using less sophisticated methods of attack (including vehicles and edged weapons), and targeting relatively unprotected places. However, complex and large-scale attacks continue to occur and terrorists continue to plan this type of attack.

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;
  • places where Westerners gather: 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.

Take particular care at holiday or religious festivals or observances on significant dates and anniversaries, and during political events (such as elections). These may be considered symbolic by terrorists and have been used in the past to mount attacks. Dates of significance include New Years Eve, Easter, Ramadan, Christmas and national days (eg. Bastille Day). 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.

Minimise your risk

  • Research your proposed destination before you book, such as by regularly checking the country travel advice and subscribing for updates.
  • Take our travel advice seriously, including where we advise 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 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 alert 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.
  • If an incident occurs, notify your family of your safety.
  • 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.

Aviation security

In March 2017, a number of countries tightened aviation security arrangements in response to concerns about a heightened threat of attack against the aviation sector. Check the country travel advisory for the country or countries you intend to visit for information on whether these measures apply to your destination.

Where to get additional information

Additional information on the threat of international terrorism is available 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 and Government 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.

This bulletin is reissued periodically. It should be read in conjunction with individual country advisories. If the Australian Government has any specific and credible information on terrorist attack planning, this will appear in the relevant country-specific advisory. If you plan to travel overseas, subscribe to this free service before travelling, so that you stay informed of the latest risks. Terrorist attacks may occur without warning and in areas where the risk of terrorist attack has not been previously highlighted. Travel advice explained also outlines ways to manage risk for your destination.