by Brendan Nicholson
IN 1983, ASIO was trying to track down those responsible for a terrorist attack in Sydney when investigators discovered another atrocity was being planned.
ASIO’s action appears to have stalled the plot and delayed the follow-up attack for three years.
Cabinet papers released yesterday show that ASIO had little to go on, but in October 1983 it briefed the Hawke cabinet on its concerns that a group called Justice Commandos Against Armenian Genocide was planning an attack in Australia.
In 10 years, the group had killed dozens of Turkish diplomats around the world.
Nearly three decades later, the ASIO document released today has still been heavily censored, but enough is left to reveal that a JCAG member, Krikor Keverian, was intercepted with four handguns in his baggage when returning from Los Angeles on July 12, 1983.
ASIO has removed the next bit but the document goes on: “It is believed they were the ‘important things’ he was reminded to bring back with him by Silva Donelian, whom ASIO believes played some role in the killing in Sydney in December 1980 of Turkish consul-general Sarik Ariyak and his bodyguard.” Their killers have never been found.
The security agency said it believed something was planned, but it was not sure if or when it would take place.
The agency said a Levon Demirian was planning to return to Australia early from Beirut on July 13 “because something has been brought forward”. Demirian’s visit was cancelled after the discovery of the handguns.
On July 14, ASIO said another Armenian, Agop Magarditch, who had recently returned from the US, had reported guns were in a shipment of furniture and personal items en route to him from Los Angeles. The shipment was intercepted and a sub-machinegun, five pistols and ammunition were found, with information on how to carry out an assassination. ASIO said it suspected that Magarditch, on hearing of Keverian’s arrest, had panicked and reported the weapons.
The agency said it had received reports from its agents that Demirian was in Australia and it was likely he had used a false identity to enter the country.
“Such an entry would suggest operational motive,” ASIO said.
ASIO noted that the JCAG had just tried, but failed, to carry out an attack on the Turkish embassy in Lisbon. Some of those attackers came from Beirut and all were equipped for a siege.
It concluded the pistols being brought into Australia by Keverian were for use in an operation in which Demirian was to be involved.
ASIO said it was possible the group was planning a siege-hostage operation.
Responding to the agency’s concerns, the Hawke government initiated a “special counter-terrorism risk alert”.
It is not clear from the documents what ASIO did next or whether the suspected plot was ultimately foiled. But on November 23, 1986, a bomb hidden in a car exploded in the basement of the building housing the Turkish consulate in Melbourne.
The bomb had apparently exploded prematurely, and Hagob Levonian, from the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, was blown to pieces.
Levon Demirian was charged with murdering Levonian.