ASIO head warns of local spontaneous violence following Israel-Hamas war

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The chiefs of domestic intelligence agencies in Australia and the United States have jointly cautioned over the heightened threat of violence resulting from Hamas’ blooding incursion in Israel.

Speaking in a joint press conference before an intelligence conference in Palo Alto, California, ASIO chief Mike Burgess and FBI director Christopher Wray said threats of domestic terrorism in their respective countries were “evolving continually”.

“We, of course, recognise this is a moment that drives feelings and attitudes in our respective countries and in Australia, so we’re on the lookout for that as we see protests and counter protests … but we do anticipate spontaneous violence around these,” Burgess said in comments reported by The Sydney Morning Herald.

“We do see a direct correlation between language that inflames tension and out of that tension does grow a small number of people who think violence is the answer.

“It’s something that we all have to be mindful of, and that’s for all Australians to play their part.”

Asked by reporters if his message was also directed at politicians – some of whom have been accused of stoking tensions including Opposition Leader Peter Dutton – director-general Burgess replied it was “for everybody”.

FBI director Wray said his agency had detected an increase in reported threats against Americans of Jewish and Muslim faith since the conflict commenced.

“We’re particularly alert to the potential that these events have to inspire violence against Jewish Americans, against Muslim Americans, institutions, houses of worship here et cetera,” director Fray said.

“And I will say over the past week, we’ve seen an increase in reported threats to those groups right here in the United States, and we’ve been working with our partners all across law enforcement and with faith-based communities to assess those threats as they come in and to mitigate them.”

Last week, Burgess cautioned the agency was on high alert for politically or religiously motivated violence.

“ASIO is carefully monitoring the situation for any indications of planned violence. Were we to see any, we would respond accordingly, along with our law enforcement partners,” the director-general said in a statement released on Thursday.

While the national terrorism threat level remains “possible”, Burgess warned against extremists escalating protests to stoke community disharmony.

Burgess’ warning follows the controversial pro-Palestinian protest in Sydney last week where activists burned the Israeli flag and chanted anti-Semitic slogans.

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