International terrorism remains a threat to Australians living and travelling overseas. Terrorists continue carrying out attacks across the world. They target locals and foreign tourists.
Before you travel overseas, it's important to understand the risk of terrorism worldwide. Especially in your destination. This helps you make informed decisions about where and when your travel, and what you do there.
Explore this page to learn about:
- the basics about terrorism
- high risk destinations for terrorism
- common local targets for terrorists
- how to reduce your risks
This page is for Australians preparing to travel overseas. If you're already travelling and need help, see our advice on what to do if there's a terrorist situation nearby.
The basics of terrorism
Broadly, terrorism is a set of activities that involve politically motivated violence. These activities can include acts or threats of violence that are:
- likely to achieve a political objective
- intended to influence the policy of a government
- likely to lead to violence, civil unrest and / or political dissent
Extremist ideology drives terrorism. This could be from individuals or groups with extreme ideals that are religious, right or left wing, separatist or nationalist.
Learn more about terrorism from The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).
Terrorists methods and tactics
Terrorists use a number of violent and destructive means to achieve their goals. They often target international tourists. Terrorists may:
- hijack aircraft
- engage in piracy, of commercial or private vessels
- kidnap civilians or public figures
- use an explosive device on people, landmarks, buildings and public places
Terrorist groups and their sympathisers often use less sophisticated methods to carry out their attack. This includes using vehicles as weapons, as well as knives and swords.
Learn more about terrorist methods (UK Government).
Major terrorist organisations
ASIO lists some of the key terrorist groups around the world as:
Some terrorists operate independent of a major organisation. Sometimes as a small group that share an extreme ideology. Other times, it is one person operating as a lone actor, often referred to as a 'lone-wolf'.
For more, see the Australian Government's information on listed terrorist organisations (ASIO).
Destinations with increased terrorist activity
Some terrorist organisations including the Islamic State (IS) and al-Qa'ida (AQ) view Australia and Australians as targets. This threat extends to Australians travelling overseas.
North Africa and the Middle East are the regions most affected by terrorist attacks. Most of the countries here affected by terrorism have an overall advice level or 3 or 4.
Many countries have recently experienced terrorist situations. Some remain at heightened risk. This includes countries popular with Australian tourists, such as:
Locations terrorists often target
Crowded places remain attractive terrorist targets and do not require advanced capability to attack. Attacks on 'soft targets' in crowded places have occurred in several cities globally.
- Crowded places. Such as train stations, sports arenas, markets, shopping centres and other venues.
- Tourist attractions. Especially those frequented by foreign tourists.
- Places of worship. Such as mosques, churches, synagogues, temples and shrines.
- Airlines. For both hijacking and bombing.
- Government facilities. Including office buildings and military facilities.
- Identifiably Western interests. This includes embassies, consulates, airlines, foreign oil and gas infrastructure, premises of multinational companies (including employee residential compounds) and international schools.
- Places where Westerners gather. This can include hotels, restaurants, nightclubs and other entertainment venues catering to foreign clientele.
Stay aware and alert when overseas when in a location more likely to be targeted by terrorists. Especially in destinations that experience more frequent attacks, and during times of heightened activity.
Learn more about terrorist threats to soft targets and crowded places (US Government).
When terrorists may attack
Terrorists can attack anywhere, any time. Some attacks come without warning, others after a well publicised threat.
The likelihood of a terrorist attack may increase at particular times. Be aware of key dates in your destination, and current affairs. Exercise extra caution around these times.
- National holidays. Such as New Year's Day and independence days.
- Religious dates or observances. Such as Christmas, Easter and Eid.
- Significant dates and anniversaries. Such as Bastille Day or 9/11.
- During elections. Especially at political events such as rallies.
Terrorists have also conducted attacks in response to broader international political or social developments. For example, the release of films and cartoons they consider offensive.
Recent attacks harming Australians
Many Australians have died in terrorist attacks overseas. The most recent attacks where Australians were killed include:
- the attacks in Sri Lanka in April 2019
- the attack in Barcelona in August 2017
- the attacks on London Bridge and Borough Market in June 2017
- the attack on the Karrada Peninsula in Baghdad in May 2017
Advice about terrorist situations before you go
Research your destination
- Research before you go. Research where you're going before you book. Check our travel advice for your destination, and subscribe for updates.
- Check the advice level. Take our travel advice seriously, including where we advise against travel. This may also include border areas or other locations within an otherwise low-risk country.
- Identity high risk locations. Know which specific places terrorists are likely to target. Whether its busy markets and shopping malls, or places popular with tourists, know where. You may want to take extra precautions if you visit there, or avoid it all together.
- Decide if you'll still go. Determine if you feel safe to travel to your planned destination. Especially if our advice level is 3. If the risk is high and you decide to go anyway, you'll want to take extra precautions. If it's at level 4, just don't go.
Read the travel advisory for your destination.
Terrorists can strike anywhere, anytime. Including destinations that are generally considered at lower risk. Be prepared for the possibility, no matter where you go.
If our advice level is 1 or 2
If travelling to a destination where our advice level is 1 or 2, you still need to be prepared before you go.
- Get travel insurance. Get travel insurance before you go. Some cover you for cancellations before you go. However, understand that most insurers exclude claims relating to acts of terror while you're away. Check the fine print.
- Know the risks. Read the travel advice for your destination and know the local safety risks.
- Know how to get help. Know how to get help in your destination. See the emergency contact details in the travel advisory for your destination.
If our advice level is 3 or 4
If you're travelling to a higher risk destination, there's more you must do to be prepared. As well as the tips above for any destination, consider the following advice.
- Get security advice. if you're travelling for work (e.g. journalist, medical professional) or volunteering (e.g. aid worker), always ensure your workplace has suitable security arrangements. If travelling independently you may need to engage a private personal security firm.
- Get a risk assessment. Ask your security provider to undertake a formal risk assessment. Get a security plan.
- Establish security procedures. Ask your security provider about their security procedures.
- Know what to do when there's a situation. Know the emergency procedures in your destination. In 'do not travel' destinations, local authorities may not be able to help. You may have to rely on your private security provider.
- Get specialised insurance. Most regular travel insurance policies won't cover you. Make sure your employer provides adequate cover. Ensure it also covers kidnapping and death. If travelling independently, shop around. Cover is likely to be very expensive.
In most 'Do not travel' destinations, the Australian Government is severely limited in how it can help if there's a terrorist situation overseas. Understand our limits. Read the Consular Service Charter.
Reducing your risks from terrorism while you're away
If you're already travelling and need help, see our advice on what to do if there's a terrorist situation nearby. This provides more information about:
- what to do if there's been a terrorist attack
- how the Australian Government can help you overseas
- assistance and support when you return to Australia
The Australian Government is limited how and when it can help Australians overseas. It's important you understand our limits. Read the Consular Services Charter.
- Also read our general advice on reducing your risk of piracy and kidnapping.
- Before you go, read the travel advisory for your destination. Understand what each advice level means.
- We regularly update travel advisories. Especially if we confirm there's an increased risk of terrorism. To stay informed, subscribe for updates.
- If there's a major terrorist situation that impacts many Australians, we may initiate a crisis response.
- See our general advice on what to when there's a terrorist situation nearby.
- Learn more about fighting terrorism overseas (Australian Federal Police, AFP).
- Learn about terrorist risks to business travellers (ASIO Business and Government Liaison Unit)
- Learn more about terrorist threats (INTERPOL).
- Read the US State Department Annual Terrorism Report for details of trends in terrorist attacks (US Government)
- Read about Terrorism and National Emergencies (UK Government).
- See terrorism information on the US Homeland Security website (US Government).
Crises that affect a large number of Australians overseas usually require a response beyond our normal consular services.
Find out what to do if you're travelling overseas and there's a demonstration nearby. Learn how, where and when to get help.