FRENCH authorities have warned of a likely terrorist attack in Australia this year.
They confirmed that a terrorist cell in Sydney with plans to launch a devastating attack was broken up after the arrest of French terrorist suspect Willie Brigitte.
But they say a sleeper cell still exists in Australia, which is regarded as “weak” by extremist organisations.
Senior French sources fear the cell is planning a post-Iraq war attack and believe it is linked to little-known groups in the Russian region of Chechnya and the former Soviet state of Georgia.
“An attack in Australia is inevitable,” one senior official said.
“I would not be surprised if something occurred in this year.”
French agents have been battling Islamic terrorist groups since the early 1990s and have foiled terrorist plots every year since 1996.
Willie Brigitte has admitted he trained under a Chechen explosives expert, Abu Salah, in a Lashkar-e-Toiba training camp in Pakistan.
Brigitte’s wife, Melanie Brown, a former army signaller, was detained and questioned by French authorities last month and has returned to Sydney.
Lashkar-e-Toiba is a highly organised terrorist group and was banned by the Federal Government late last year.
Brigitte named Sydney man Abu Hamza as LET’s representative in Australia and he claimed during interrogation that Salah had been due to arrive in Australia last year.
Chechen terrorist groups have been prevented from using chemical and biological weapons against targets in Europe.
French sources have revealed that the first Australian links to al-Qaida were exposed in 1998 when a suspect was detained in Sydney.
That person was directly linked to an active terrorist cell in Vancouver, Canada.
“No agencies in Australia had any information about this individual. We uncovered evidence in France and Turkey,” a source said.
The French fear the Islamic terrorist threat is increasing in South-East Asia and Australia and that groups linked to al-Qaida are growing quickly. They also view Australia as a weak link in the global anti-terrorism chain.
The Howard Government has moved to tighten anti-terrorism laws since the Bali attack in October 2002, but the French say we have not gone far enough.
“You don’t have the legal means to deal with the threat,” a long-standing expert said.
A senior French diplomat told the Herald Sun that co-operation between Australian and French security agencies was excellent. “We have helped you to uncover something quite threatening,” he said. “The Brigitte affair shows that everything is interlinked. Nothing is confined to a region any more.”
A spokesman for Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said the Government did not dispute that Australia’s anti-terrorism powers were less than France’s, but Australia had not experienced domestic terrorism like France had.