By Crikey reporter Lucy Morieson

John Howard has alerted Australians to security concerns over an
imminent terrorist attack on Australia – so is it time to run to the
hills? It’s hard to tell. With the government unable
to reveal any further details of the threat, there’s a sea of warnings
floating about in the Australian media.

In today’s Australian, Patrick Walters and Steve Lewis
rely on an un-named source to report that the threat relates specifically to
Melbourne and Sydney – “the intelligence relates to
home-grown terror suspects in the country’s two biggest cities who are
believed
to be building the capability to mount an attack.” Apparently, the
warning comes after a string of ASIO raids on homes in Sydney and
Melbourne in June – which were believed to have been related. One of
the men targeted in the Sydney raids was said to have links to the
outlawed militia group Lashkar-e-Taiba, and members of the group had
allegedly been filming Melbourne
landmarks including the Australian Stock Exchange, and a suburban train
station.

Take a look at the front page story in today’s Age, and you’ll read
that “the
threat did not originate in Victoria and was not directed at the
state.” But on the paper’s website this has been superseded
by a breaking story that appears to be a follow-up to The
Australian’s
piece: “The new terrorist threat announced by the
government
involved suspects filming possible targets in Melbourne and one person
who
trained with a terrorist group, a leading analyst says.”

This time, the source is named as Clive Williams, an expert on
terrorism who heads Canberra’s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at
ANU. Williams is quoted as telling the Nine Network that: “It’s two
persons in Sydney talking to others in Melbourne about potential
targets… One of the persons apparently was identified by
an American informant as having attended an LET – a Lashkar-e-Taiba –
camp in
Pakistan.”

The story goes on to report that Williams told ABC radio that police conducted three
raids in Sydney in June in relation
to the threat and the suspects had identified targets in Melbourne – so it looks like he could be The Australian’s
source. But wait a minute – what did Williams say of the Walters and
Lewis story? He told ABC radio that he believed they’d got it right
because Walters has good sources. Interesting.

Meanwhile, The Sydney Morning Herald is reporting the same breaking story as The Age, based on the Williams comments. But Neil Fergus, the former security chief for the 2000 Sydney
Olympics, isn’t too concerned, with the paper reporting that the National Threat Assessment Centre (NTAC) has not
yet elevated the current threat level from medium to high. And at The Daily Telegraph, a “source” puts paid to the idea of a specific target –
“It is something more general rather than just Sydney or Melbourne.”

But then, everything does seem to be changing very quickly. Just last
night, Clive Williams, he of the specific Sydney/Melbourne information,
told ABC TV’s Latelinethat
it was odd that we’re even talking about this at all: “Normally these
sort of incidents, or of
instances of information are not publicised, so it is a bit unusual
that the
Prime Minister would come out with information of this kind.” So
perhaps we’d all be better off listening to New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, who poured cold water on Howard’s warning. “Australian officials have confirmed that there is no
imminent threat of terrorist attacks in Australia,”
she said.