SYDNEY (AFP) – Australian Prime Minister To-ny Abbott on Tuesday warned of heightened “terrorist chatter” in the aftermath of the fatal Sydney cafe siege and said another attack was likely, as tearful mourners paid tribute to the victims.
Iranian-born gunman Man Haron Monis, who had a history of extremism and violence, took 17 hostages in the city’s financial heartland last week, unveiling an Islamic flag and demanding to talk to Abbott.
He was killed as armed police stormed the eatery after 16 hours. Two hostages also died – mother-of-three Katrina Dawson, 38, and 34-year-old Lindt cafe manager Tori Johnson – while several were injured.
“A briefing from the security agencies today indicated that there has been a heightened level of terrorist chatter in the aftermath of the Martin Place siege,” Abbott said after a meeting of his National Security Committee.
“That’s why it’s important that people remain alert and aware as well as reassured that our police and security agencies are doing everything they humanly can to keep us safe.”
Abbott did not raise Australia’s terror alert level beyond its current high, which means an attack is likely. An extreme alert level means one is imminent or has occurred.
“I am alerting people to the fact that the terror threat remains high and as you all understand, at this level, an attack is likely,” he said.
Australia raised its threat level to high in Sep-tember when it carried out a series of counter-terrorism raids across Sydney and Brisbane fol-lowing a flow of its nationals to Iraq and Syria to fight with the Islamic State group and other extremists.
At that time, Abbott said the raised threat was not prompted by a specific attack plan but a “body of evidence that points to the increased likelihood of a terrorist attack in Australia”.
Australia has not officially branded the Syd-ney seige as a terrorist attack and Abbott said
“I’m not going to speculate” on any potential new threat.
The warning comes as emotions remain raw over the siege, which triggered an outpouring of grief that saw thousands of bouquets laid at a makeshift memorial near the cafe in Martin Place that has grown bigger by the day.