New article and some updates

Another quick post.

I have an article in the latest issue of CTC Sentinel, called New developments in Australian foreign fighter activity.

I’ve also been updating the List of alleged violent plots in Europe involving Syria returnees. I might add this event (which would make eight) but am waiting for some information that’s more solid.

We have another set of national security legislation before Parliament, the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill 2014.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security is holding a (very short) inquiry on it. You can read the legislation, the submissions, and transcripts of hearings here. They will have a report out on 17 October.

Operation Pendennis, Abbott’s CT approach and law resources

I have two new articles out. One is a co-authored journal article in Perspectives On Terrorism, revisiting the terrorist plot foiled in 2005 by Operation Pendennis:

Operation Pendennis: A Case Study of an Australian Terrorist Plot
by Bart Schuurman, Shandon Harris-Hogan, Andrew Zammit and Pete Lentini

This Research Note article provides a case study of a major Australian terrorist investigation, code-named Operation Pendennis. Drawing primarily from publicly available court transcripts, this study seeks to expand upon the growing literature within terrorism studies which utilises primary source materials. Its aim is to provide a detailed overview of Operation Pendennis that might serve as a resource for other scholars. The work also aims to add to existing knowledge regarding how terrorists prepare their attacks and react when under surveillance. This is done by providing a descriptive account of two cells’ preparations for an act of terrorism, and their unsuccessful attempts to evade authorities.

The other is an opinion piece in The Age, published a fortnight ago:

Abbott’s haste to tackle home-grown terrorists carries grave risks
by Andrew Zammit

The threat posed by Australians in extremist groups in Syria and Iraq is being used to justify dramatic changes to national security legislation. The threat is very much real, but that does not make all the proposed new laws necessary or justified.

The opinion piece expresses my fears, which have only increased in the past few weeks, that counter-terrorism in Australia is heading in a bad direction and returning to some of the worst aspects of the Howard Government approach. It looks like several of the Abbott Government’s new laws will be harmful, unnecessary, and will complicate counter-terrorism efforts.

I say “looks like” because there’s not much detail on the new laws, particularly the most contentious ones like reversing the burden of proof for suspected returning fighters.

So I’m linking to some extra resources on the laws, following up from the last post.

There are three sets of proposed national security legislation. The previous post contained resources on the first set, the five background reports, and some commentary.

Since then, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security has been conducting a short inquiry on the first set. Submissions to the inquiry can be found here, and transcripts of the public hearings can be found here.

Much less information has been released on the second set, aside from a press release and this press conference transcript.

The third set will involve data retention. No detail has been released on the government’s current plans for that, but there’s good background info in this Parliamentary Library paper from October 2012.

Finally, the Parliamentary Library recently released this useful paper: Counter-terrorism and national security legislation reviews: a comparative overview.

Resources: Australia’s new national security legislation reforms

Another quick post. Here are some resources for the impending reforms to national security legislation.


1. The Parliamentary page for the first set of reforms, National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2014, is here. There will reportedly be a second set of reforms a few months later.

The key documents on that page are the bill itself and the explanatory memorandum.


2. Some commentary on the bill:

Bernard Keane, “Brandis’ national security bill a concern for whistleblowers, journalists“, Crikey, 17 July 2014 (currently paywalled).

Rebecca Ananian-Welsh, “National security bill gives ASIO more powers and a tighter gag“, The Conversation, 17 July 2014.

Cameron Stewart, “Security laws must be updated“, The Australian, 19 July 2014.


3. Five reports recommending national security legislation reform (the current bill is based heavily on the Joint Committee report, but the second set of reforms will apparently be partly based on the Independent Monitor reports and presumably the COAG one too):

Independent National Security Legislation Monitor – annual report 28th March 2014
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC)
18 June 2014

Independent National Security Legislation Monitor – declassified annual report 20th December 2012
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC)
14 May 2013

Council of Australian Governments review of counter-terrorism legislation
Council of Australian Governments (COAG)
14 May 2013

Report of the inquiry into potential reforms of Australia’s national security legislation
Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS)
24 June 2013

Independent National Security Legislation Monitor – annual report 7th November 2013
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC)
12 December 2013


4. On Friday the Parliamentary Library published two lists of useful web links, one on national security and the other on crime and law enforcement.

Parliamentary discussion on foreign fighters, data retention, the INSLM, Musa Cerantonio and Chris Berg

Yesterday the federal parliament had a 40-minute discussion on terrorism. It begun with a motion that dual nationals fighting with jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq should have their citizenship revoked, but then went off in a few other directions.

The Hansard transcript is available here but I’ve pasted the relevant section below.

Continue reading

List of alleged violent plots in Europe involving Syria returnees

Governments throughout Europe have expressed fears that foreign fighters in Syria will return to their home countries as committed terrorists with deadly skills and violent intent. How plausible these fears are has been subject to debate.

My view is that the fears are well-founded, and that we should no longer be asking whether any European fighters in Syria will return to attempt terrorist attacks, but how many currently have.

To help keep track of open-source information on this, this post provides a list of alleged violent plots in Europe involving people who had joined jihadist groups in Syria.

I plan to regularly update the list as more incidents occur, or as more information on these incidents comes out, and may expand the list to include Australia and North America if plots occur there.

To be included in this list, the incident must meet the following criteria: 1. It must involve at least one person who has allegedly returned from fighting with jihadist groups in Syria. 2. It must involve violence or an alleged plan for violence. Simple threats of violence are not included. 3. The violence must have occurred, or been intended to occur, in Europe. This means the many cases of people charged for having fought in Syria, attempting to fight, or supporting fighters, are not included, even if they make some references to wanting to carry out violence in Europe. Also not included is the kidnapping and abuse of European journalists in Syria by British jihadists. 4. The violence or allegedly planned violence must have an apparent ideological motivation. If a returning fighter was to assault someone over an unrelated dispute, it would not be included.

The publicly available evidence for each of these cases varies, and none have seen completed trials. This means that none can be considered definitive, although the Nemmouche case in Belgium looks strong.

For those interested in more information on the Syria blowback, I recommend these articles by Lisa Lundquist and Raff Pantucci, which were useful for this post. Finally, please suggest any incidents I may have missed which meet the above criteria.


List of alleged violent plots in Europe involving Syria returnees:


  1. October 2013: UK police arrested four men and charged them with terrorism offences. They were accused of planning a “Mumbai-style plot” in London, meaning a sophisticated mass shooting of civilians. The men had reportedly returned from Syria, and may have met there. UK authorities have kept a tight hold on information about the case.


  1. November 2013: Police in Kosovo arrested six terror suspects they accused of planning an attack, while a seventh remains at large. Authorities said they had been monitoring the suspected cell for over three months, had gathered evidence through video surveillance, phone tapping, and email monitoring, and had seized firearms and material for making explosives. Two of the suspects, had allegedly fought alongside Syrian jihadists, possibly Jabhat al-Nusra.


  1. March 2014: French police claimed to have foiled an “imminent” terror attack planned on the French Riviera. Earlier in the year, Italian police had arrested, and extradited to France, a 23-year old man who had returned from Syria. He was allegedly caught with soda cans filled with explosives, nails, nuts and bolts. He was also allegedly linked to the Cannes-Torcy cell, which was suspected of planning a grenade attack on a Jewish business in September 2012.


  1. May 2014: Dutch police arrested a 21-year-old man who fought in Syria and was allegedly about to commit armed robbery “to finance jihad”. He faces charges of planning a terrorist attack and illegal firearms possession.


  1. May 2014: A gunman murdered four people near the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels. On 30 May a 29-year old Frenchman named Mehdi Nemmouche was caught, reportedly with guns, ammunition, and a video claiming responsibility for the attack. Nemmouche had also allegedly fought in Syria, with the former al-Qaeda affiliate the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). If the allegations prove true, these are the first deaths to occur in a Europe as a result of the foreign fighter flow into Syria.


  1. June 2014: Police in Kosovo arrested three men and charged them with terrorism offences, reportedly involving planned “suicide attacks targeting mass gathering places in order to cause widespread bloodshed and casualties”. The three men had allegedly been recruited by ISIS.


  1. July 2014: A Norwegian police statement said “We also have information indicating that a terrorist action against Norway is planned to be carried out shortly — probably in a few days.” The threat was treated very seriously, with security boosted at potential targets across the country. The plot reportedly involved four ISIS members who left Syria with intentions to attack in Norway or elsewhere in Europe. No one has been charged, but given that there are specific suspects and how seriously the threat was taken, the four suspects would certainly be charged if they were caught.


Update 1: This post initially said that the names for the terror suspects in Plot 1 had not been released. However their names had actually been released following a High Court decision earlier this month , though most of the trial will remain secret. In Plot 3 I initially said the suspect was arrested by French police, but he was actually arrested by Italian police in January and extradited to France. I fixed these errors on 30 June 2014, thanks to Raffaello Pantucci for pointing them out.

Update 2: This post initially included the following incident:

June 2014: French police arrested four citizens, two of which had allegedly returned from Syria. They were wanted for “questioning by an anti-terrorism judge for alleged criminal association in view of preparing a terror act”. I have not found any further information, such as what groups in Syria they may have been involved with.

However, Timothy Holman alerted me that it may not meet Criteria 3 (that the planned violent action must be in Europe).

In the French press sources I have the arrests are related to a foreign fighter facilitation network based in Nimes that may have sent up to 20 persons to Syria.

See for example,1010853.php or

I agree that the use of the term in the English article “It said the four were wanted for questioning by an anti-terrorism judge for alleged criminal association in view of preparing a terror act, without specifying.” suggests a terrorist act but the articles in English and French do not designate a target, nor method of attack etc. In Le Monde, it states, “association de malfaiteurs en vue de préparer des actes de terrorisme” without giving details of attack planning but writing about the number of persons sent to Syria.

I have removed this incident from the list (on 30 June 2014) for now, hopefully more information will come out that clears it up.

Update 3: Added the alleged Norway plot on 22 September 2014.

Update 4: (also on 22 September 2014) I’ve come across three other possible alleged plots, but the information is too thin to conclude they meet the four criteria for inclusion. If any of you have information on the following three incidents, please let me know.

  1. February 2013: An assassination attempt occurred against Danish journalist and Dispatch International editor Lars Hedegaard.  The man arrested over it has reportedly fought in Syria. However, from what I can tell his reported involvement with Syrian extremist groups occurred after the assassination attempt, so it may not meet criteria 1.
  2. August 2014: A French-Moroccan suspected jihadist was detained at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, as part of investigation into a possible “conspiracy to plan terrorist acts”. It’s not clear if he was ever charged.
  3. September 2014: Media reports suggest a Dutch couple who had fought in Syria were arrested in Belgium, possibly for plotting an attack on the Berlaymont building, which houses the European Union’s Brussels offices. It does not look like anyone has yet been charged.

Resources: five new reports on al-Qaeda, syria, jihadism and foreign fighters

Here are five think-tank reports on al-Qaeda, Syria, jihadism and foreign fighters that have come out in the past month.

I have not read any of them in full yet, but have read sections of the RAND and Brookings reports and definitely recommend them. The RAND one contains extremely useful data, regardless of questions about the media coverage of it, and gives a valuable historic overview of al-Qaeda and like-minded groups.

I’m looking forward to reading the foreign fighter reports, particularly as we’re passing the point where the threat from the Syrian foreign fighter mobilisation can be considered hypothetical. The Institute for Strategic Dialogue usually produces excellent reports, so I expect this one will be good. However I’m less keen on Quilliam, and am unfamiliar with the Soufan Group.

All these reports are free and in PDF format.


A Persistent Threat: The Evolution of al Qa’ida and Other Salafi Jihadists
4 June 2014

Foreign Fighters in Syria
The Soufan Group
2 June 2014

Dynamic Stalemate: Surveying Syria’s Military Landscape
Brookings Doha Centre
19 May 2014

Jihad Trending: A Comprehensive Analysis of Online Extremism and How to Counter it
Quilliam Foundation
12 May 2014

Foreign Fighters, the Challenge of Counter-Narratives
Institute for Strategic Dialogue
10 May 2014

Resources: information on Australia’s continuing detention of refugees who fail ASIO assessments

Last week the Federal Government, with the Opposition’s full support, passed legislation to keep around 50 refugees detained indefinitely.

These are people who have been found to legitimate refugees, but are still locked up for possibly the rest of their lives, because of adverse security assessments from ASIO. The legislation overrides a 2012 High Court ruling.

I’ve argued before that the security concerns could be well-founded, but that indefinite detention is unnecessary and unjustified. This post provides some links to resources for others opposed to this policy:


Immigration detainees with adverse security assessments v Commonwealth of Australia (Department of Immigration and Citizenship): Report into arbitrary detention and the best interests of the child
Australian Human Rights Commission
May 2013

Finds that the policy amounts to arbitrary detention, and that the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) took no effort to explore whether detention was necessary for particular individuals, or whether less restrictive measures could address the security concerns.


Tell Me About: Refugees with Adverse Security Assessments
Australian Human Rights Commission
May 2013

Brief backgrounder explaining how the laws work and the human rights problems they raise.


Australia’s detention of 46 refugees ‘cruel and degrading,’ UN rights experts find
United Nations Human Rights Committee
August 2013

Press release containing links to two UN reports on this issue, which find Australia responsible for over 150 human rights violations.


Inquiry into the attendance of legal representatives at ASIO interviews, and related matters
Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security
January 2014

Casts doubt on ASIO’s conduct when interviewing refugees for security assessments. For example:

I found that the approach taken by ASIO officers (as generally described by officers that I interviewed) currently tends to a default of strongly discouraging the attendance of lawyers. I do not believe that this is consistent with ASIO’s stated internal guidance and may not be consistent with the legal requirements……

From all of the information provided to me, I believe that ASIO has had an apparent practice of discouraging the attendance of lawyers at interviews, which seems inconsistent with the intent of its internal guidance.


Factsheet: Refugees with an adverse security assessment by ASIO
Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law
February 2014

Another backgrounder, but more up to date than the Australian Human Rights Commission one.


This is still breaking people: update on human rights violations at Australia’s asylum seeker processing centre on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea
Amnesty International
May 2014

This last resource doesn’t involve the ASIO security assessments at all. A couple of years ago, these 50-odd adversely-assessed refugees were the only people Australia was detaining indefinitely. Then in 2013 the Gillard government introduced “No Advantage”, and then we saw Rudd’s “PNG Solution”, followed by Abbott’s “Operation Sovereign Borders”. Now, Australia is in effect holding thousands of asylum seekers in indefinite detention (as their refugee claims are not being assessed).  This report outlines allegations of abuse in one of the detention centres, and the lack of response from Papua New Guinea or Australia.