Australia has been targeted by al-Qaeda as a potential 'point of origin' for hijacking international flights, which United States intelligence agencies believe may form part of a new wave of September 11-style attacks.
The warning will be included in a new security alert from the US Government and will correct a blunder made in an earlier memo from the US Department of Homeland Security, widely reported yesterday, listing Australia as a possible 'attack venue' of such al-Qaeda strikes.
The new advice suggests that Australia could be a take-off point for suicide attacks, using commercial aircraft, on other countries.
The Australian Government initially responded to the reports yesterday by saying that the first memo was wrong and that it had been advised 'the US is correcting that information, and will be issuing a new threat advisory shortly'.
'The intelligence on which the US threat advisory is based did not refer to Australia as a possible site for an attack,' a spokeswoman for the Attorney-General, Daryl Williams, said yesterday.
It was only later that government sources confirmed that the new clarified US security alert would list Australia instead as a potential 'point of origin'.
The Opposition called yesterday's confusion 'an extraordinary series of contradictory events'.
Labor's foreign affairs spokesman, Kevin Rudd, said it didn't 'exactly inspire confidence in the Howard Government's handling of sensitive national security matters'."
I am alert, but not alarmed. Let's imagine it's a busy Friday at Sydney (Kingsford-Smith) Airport. QF11 departs SYD for LAX at 1400. At 1420 the signal from QF11's IFF transponder beacon stops transmitting. At 1905 New Zealand time the tower at AKL reports that they are getting no response from the pilot and that the transponder is still switched off. After an emergency trans-Tasman conversation Prime Ministers Howard and Clark agree that they need to speak to President Bush immediately. Bush is greeted in the White House situation room by his chief of staff:
'What are our options?'
'The hijacked flight will reach US airspace in around 9 hours, Mr President.'
'My God! Can we get a message to NORAD in that time?'
'We can try, Mr President...'