Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Monday announced a national security crackdown that could deny welfare payments to people seen as potential threats, strip the passports of those with dual nationality and curb travel overseas.
Abbott, bruised politically and facing pressure for dramatic action after surviving a leadership challenge this month, unveiled the measures in the wake of a hostage siege at a cafe in Sydney's busy Martin Place plaza that left three dead in December.
He said some personal freedoms would have to be curtailed to fight what he called a rapidly growing threat from radical groups such as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
The conservative Abbott said new laws would remedy failings exposed in the areas of immigration, welfare, policing and intelligence by clamping down on those who supported ISIL, especially recipients of welfare.
Australia's government raised the country's security warning level in September in response to the domestic threat posed by supporters of ISIL. The group's spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani the same month issued a message urging attacks abroad, specifically mentioning Australia.
Canberra says it has since carried out a series of raids amid the alleged departure of at least 110 Australian nationals to Iraq and Syria to fight with ISIL.
Abbott said the threat at home was getting worse with security agencies currently running more than 400 high-priority counterterrorism investigations — more than twice the number just one year ago.
A report released Sunday on the Sydney siege found that 18 calls were made to an Australian national security hotline about Man Haron Monis, an Iranian-born self-styled cleric, in the days before he held hostage 17 patrons of a Lindt Chocolate Cafe in Sydney on Dec. 15, but none suggested an imminent attack, according to an official review.
Armed with a pump-action shotgun, some 17 hours later he shot dead cafe manager Tori Johnson, 34, prompting police to storm the building and kill him. Another hostage, Katrina Downson, 38, died in the crossfire.
On Sunday, Abbott said the government was determined to learn from the review commissioned after the siege but added that the "system has let us down."
"By any measure, the threat to Australia is worsening," the prime minister said in an address following the release of the government review.
"The number of foreign fighters is up," Abbott said. "The number of known sympathizers and supporters of extremism is up. The number of potential home-grown terrorists is rising ... In proclaiming a caliphate, the Islamist death cult [referring to ISIL] has declared war on the world."
Monis was a self-declared cleric who reportedly abandoned his Shia faith and seemingly embraced a radical outlook associated with the ISIL interpretation of Sunni Islam. When he took the cafe patrons hostage, he was out on bail after being charged as an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife — the woman accused of the murder is his current girlfriend. Soon after the siege, at least 40 Muslim organizations in Australia publicly condemned his actions as criminal and not connected to Islam.
The review said a national security hotline had received the calls about Monis from Dec. 9 through 12, and they were all about offensive material on his Facebook page. "None of the calls related to any intentions or statements regarding a pending attack — imminent or otherwise," the review said, adding that all were all considered by intelligence and police authorities.
In a statement, Abbott and New South Wales Premier Mike Baird said the review found "there were no major failings of intelligence or process in the lead-up to the siege."
"However, the inescapable conclusion is that the system as a whole let the community down," they said.
Al Jazeera with wire services