CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Terrorists will use Australia's deployment of troops and war planes to the Middle East as an excuse to target Australians, Prime Minister Tony Abbott warned on Monday.
Australia is preparing to contribute 600 troops and up to 10 military aircraft to the increasingly aggressive campaign against the Islamic State extremists in Syria and Iraq, the government announced on Sunday.
While Abbott expected extremists to react to Australia's military deployment to the United Arab Emirates, he noted that 88 Australians were among 202 people killed by bombers on the Indonesian island of Bali in 2002 before Australia went to war in Iraq.
"There is no doubt that those who wish us harm will cite things like this as an excuse, but it's not the reason," Abbott told Australian Broadcasting Corp. television.
"The reason why we are targeted is not because of anything that we've done, but because of who we are and how we live," he said.
"This death cult targets everyone and anyone who does not conform to its particular ideology," he added, referring to the Islamic State movement.
Taufik Andrie, a terrorism researcher at Jakarta's Institute for International Peace Building, told ABC that Indonesian extremists were again talking about targeting Westerners in response to recent U.S. air strikes in Iraq. There have been no major attacks on Westerns in Indonesia since July 17, 2009, when the JW Marriot and Ritz-Carlton hotels were bombed, killing eight and injuring 53.
Australia's military deployment is in response to a formal request from the United States for specific contributions to the international coalition.
President Barack Obama announced the more aggressive military campaign last week. Scores of U.S. airstrikes have been launched at select targets in Iraq, and U.S. planes and drones will be gathering intelligence on targets before launching airstrikes in Syria.
Abbott drew a distinction between the current Iraq campaign and 2003 when Australia sent 2,000 troops to back the U.S. and British forces in the Iraq invasion.
"It's not President George W. Bush, it is President Obama, a very different president ... who is rightly and properly slow to reach for the gun and he has put together an extensive coalition including about 10 Middle Eastern countries," Abbott told Nine Network television.
Australia will prepare up to eight F/A18 combat aircraft, an E-7A Wedgetail Early Warning and Control aircraft and a KC-30A Tanker and Transport aircraft to be deployed to the United Arab Emirates.
The 400 air force personnel and 200 others in the contingent could be deployed this week, Abbott said on Sunday.
The statement said special operations personnel who could assist Iraq's security forces were being prepared also, but combat troops were not being deployed.