Australian jihadism at the end of 2012, part II: key events in 2012

Following from the previous post which covered Australian jihadism before 2012, this one examines the country’s key jihadism-related events during 2012.

This post will unavoidably be full of “alleged” and “reportedly”. The best terrorism research  tends to come years after any event. Media sources can be unreliable, and more solid information often only comes out when journalists and academics are able to interview people involved (terrorists, their families, victims, investigators, affected community members etc), or when people slowly dig through the court documents which sometimes take years to be released.

For example, after the Melbourne and Sydney Pendennis cells were arrested in 2005, the nature of the links between them could not be discussed in the media for six years (even though it was possible to piece a lot of the information through public sources beforehand). In late 2011 the suppression orders were finally lifted and the cells’ interaction could be reported and some particularly valuable court documents became public. To this day, there is very little court material available on the 2009 Holsworthy plot. So researchers examining current events should be very aware of the limited and fragmentary nature of the information available, and always revisit their findings when new information comes out (as argued in this presentation on mistakes made by Middle East analysts).

With that in mind, this post runs through current information available Australia’s key jihadism-related events for 2012, and the next one will discuss what these events tell us about the evolution of Australian jihadism.


Lebanon conviction

In February a Jordanian-Australian man who had been arrested in Lebanon because of alleged jihadism-related activity was convicted, though it is unclear what he was specifically convicted of. By my count he was the sixteenth Australian to be either arrested by Lebanese authorities, or charged in absentia, over alleged jihadist activity.

Siddiq-Conlon arrest

In March, Ibrahim Siddiq-Conlon, the leader of Shariah4Australia, was arrested. Siddiq-Conlon is essentially Australia’s less successful version of the UK’s Anjem Choudary.  He was charged with child porn offences and with making a hoax threat. He later pleaded guilty and was sentenced to time served. While Siddiq-Conlon’s actions are not specifically an example of jihadism, this incident is valuable for demonstrating the poor fortunes of Australia’s Muslim extremist fringe. Similarly, Hizb ut-Tahrir Australia does not compare well to its UK cousin.

Inspire magazine

In May, Australia appeared in a copy of Inspire, the magazine produced by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The issue (number 9) provided instructions on how to start bushfires, and mentioned Australia (among several other countries) as both as a target and as an example of the damage bushfires have caused. I argued that this was an unlikely scenario, as jihadists tend to stick to bombings and shootings. This was the second time Australia had appeared in Inspire, the first was simply when a picture of the Opera House appeared in July 2011.

New York guilty plea

In June, a dual US-Australian citizen, pleaded guilty in a New York court of providing material support to al-Qaeda. I considered this the first solid confirmation of Australia-Yemen jihadist connections. Over the years, media reports of Australian jihadists travelling to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon and Somalia have been confirmed by evidence heard in open courts, multiple convictions (both locally and overseas), and sometimes by the people involved talking to the media. However, for Australia-Yemen jihadist connections there was no similar confirmation until this incident.

The Kenyan non-connection

Also in June, Chinese and Kenyan newspapers reported that an Australian had been arrested in a Kenyan counter-terrorism raid. I wrote a blog post about it, but the story turned out to be false, demonstrating the above-mentioned point about the importance of revisiting your own writings.

Joining the jihad in Syria

In August a Sydney Sheikh was killed in Syria, bringing attention to the most significant development in Australian jihadism in 2012: involvement in the conflict between the Assad regime and an insurgency that contains jihadist elements. In addition to fund-raising, dozens, if not hundreds, of Australians have travelled to the region since the conflict broke out. They have usually been of Lebanese and Syrian backgrounds and travelled for a variety of reasons, but there are unconfirmed reports that some became involved in jihadist groups fighting against the Assad regime. A recent estimate was that a hundred Australians were involved in either combat or combat support in Syria. Four are reported to have died in the conflict, including one man, Marwan al-Kassab, who was apparently killed in an explosion in Lebanon while manufacturing weapons for Syrian rebels. That would make him the seventeenth Australian reportedly involved in jihadist activities in Lebanon. The Federal Police are openly concerned about Australian involvement and released an official statement warning that taking part in the fighting is illegal.

The Syrian war is particularly significant because Australia’s jihadist plots have involved connections to overseas conflict zones, whether the attacks were guided by an overseas group or involved people who wanted to join such groups but couldn’t. Moral outrage generated by the massacres of Muslims by a nominally secular regime could help draw new people into the jihadist scene, coupled with the fact that many Australians have a personal connection to the region and may travel to support their friends, families and communities but then become involved with the most extreme groups. The conflict also provides opportunities for aspiring jihadists to gain experience, contacts and deadly skills.

The insurgency is not contained solely within Syria. For example, Jordanian authorities recently uncovered an alleged terror plot by al-Qaeda in Iraq-linked jihadists who had gained weapons and expertise from taking part in the Syrian insurgency. The conflict may feed into existing Australia-Lebanon jihadist connections (such as with the groups Fatah al-Islam and Asbat al-Ansar) which are deeply tied to the northern Lebanese town of Tripoli. Ambassador for Counter-Terrorism Bill Paterson recently noted that “northern Lebanese jihadists are increasingly active in Syria, where they are likely to be working with elements of AQ in Iraq, under the banner of Jabhat al Nusra. We cannot exclude the possibility that some Australian-Lebanese dual nationals or other Australians may be among these.” Of all the events in 2012 the Syria conflict the most potential to spur jihadist radicalisation and is worth watching closely.

Communal tensions

The Syria conflict has also increased communal tensions in Australia. Violence between opponents and supporters of Assad has occurred in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra. Reported incidents include shootings, arson and acts of extortion. ASIO’s recent annual report stated that “…The situation in Syria, with the potential for violence spilling into other parts of the Middle East, increases the possibility of associated communal violence in Australia and remains a concern for ASIO. There are a small number of people actively promoting hatred and inter-communal violence in Australia.” You can watch non-violent manifestations of this tension in this rather frustrating episode of Insight. The conflict has also put Zaky Mallah back in the news, who has reportedly received death threats from local supporters of Syrian jihadists.

Al-Furqan raids

September saw Australian police charge someone with terrorism offences for the first time since 2009. Following the reported exposure of an ASIO informant, police raided several people and properties associated with the al-Furqan Islamic Centre in Melbourne, resulting in one person being charged with “collecting documents being connected with the preparation for the engagement of a person in or assistance in a terrorist act.” I won’t write anything about the case as the trial is ongoing.

Media reports suggest the al-Furqan centre was founded by Skeikh Haron, who was involved in a mainstream Bosnian mosque in Noble Park before splitting away from them (with a small group of followers) about ten years ago. He then became a follower of Melbourne’s main Salafi leader, before falling out with him as well, and then broke away and formed his own small group of about 30-40 followers. You can read all about their views on their website.

Sydney protest

Very shortly after the al-Furqan after, Sydney was dramatically affected by the global protests against an anti-Muslim film, the Innocence of Muslims. A few hundred local Muslims who objected to the film held a protest, which began peacefully although it involved some very extreme and disturbing placards (such as “behead all those who insult the prophet”) as well as some disgusting messages against Coptic Christians (a persecuted minority in Egypt). Things deteriorated further when a small core of angry young men among the protestors carried out violence against property and the police, resulting in several arrests over the following days.

While repeatedly and unanimously condemned by essentially every Muslim organisation in the country (with predictable fringe exceptions such as Hizb ut-Tahrir Australia and al-Furqan), the event had a major impact. It was entirely unexpected and there had been no earlier equivalents (for example, there were no violent protests in Australia against the Danish Mohammed cartoons). The event is not in itself an example of jihadism, but does demonstrate a small but deeply discontented extremist subculture, which has the potential to feed into other cases of extremism and alleged jihadism.



2012 was busier than 2010 and 2011. While no attempted terrorist attacks occurred but there were various extremist activities related to jihadism. In my view the al-Furqan raids were the most interesting, the Sydney protest was the most surprising, and the involvement of Australians in the Syria conflict is the most important for the future. What these events tell us about the evolution of Australian jihadism will be discussed in the next post.


Update 1: This post originally stated that there were three cases of Australians reportedly being killed while supporting Syrian rebels, but on 30 December there was a fourth case, and the text has been updated accordingly.

Australian jihadism at the end of 2012, part I: before 2012

To end the year, I will be posting a three-part series on the state of Australian jihadism at the end of 2012.

This first post provides a brief overview of Australian jihadism and its defining features before 2012, and includes several points made in earlier writings of mine. The next posts will look at events that occurred in 2012 to discuss what has happened, how our jihadist scene has changed, and what the future might look like.

“Jihadism” is a contested but commonly-recognised term to encompass the violent global movement represented by al-Qaeda and likeminded organisations and individuals. The 2002 Bali bombings demonstrated the external threat this movement posed to Australia, and several incidents have demonstrated the internal threat.

This includes four major terror plots: an unsuccessful al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiah-guided conspiracy to bomb Israeli and Jewish targets during the 2000 Sydney Olympics, a Lashkar e-Toiba-guided plot that was foiled in 2003, two self-starting cells arrested in Melbourne and Sydney in 2005’s Operation Pendennis, and a self-starting (but al-Shabab-connected) plot to attack Holsworthy army barracks in 2009. Clusters of aspiring Australian jihadists had also travelled for training or combat overseas, chiefly to Afghanistan and Pakistan from 1999-2003, Lebanon throughout the 2000s, Somalia from 2007 onwards, and also Yemen. There have also been arrests in miscellaneous countries (Kuwait, Iraq, Kazahkstan) and several other cases of alleged jihadist activity in Australia, such as recruiting, fund-raising, distributing instructional material, threats of violence, and more.

We can identify several key features of jihadism in Australia. First, Australia’s jihadist scene is very small. The most serious activity has involved a few dozen people out of a 476,000-strong Muslim population. If we were to measure it by comparing the number of people charged with jihadism-related offences relative to the size of the Muslim population, Australia’s level of jihadist activity is disproportionately low compared to the UK, France, Spain and some other Western countries. While that’s a very crude and problematic way of measuring it, other indicators (number of plots, reported cases of residents travelling for violent jihad overseas, popularity of extremist but non-violent groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir) would likely still show Australia as having a comparatively low level of activity.

Second, Australia’s jihadist scene is highly interlinked. For example, the early plots—the 2000 al-Qaeda/JI plot, the 2003 LeT-guided plot and the two 2005 Pendennis cells—each involved one or more people from the first clusters of travellers who had attended either an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan or an LeT camp in Pakistan. In addition, the LeT and Pendennis cells contained individuals closely linked, often through friends or family, with people associated with previous plots. In the 2009 Holsworthy plot there was no Afghanistan or Pakistan connection, but there was a direct relationship with an established jihadist organization (al-Shabab) in a conflict zone and social links to an earlier, failed cell. In fact, there have been friendship or family links between most Australian jihadist incidents. In this way, our jihadist scene is very similar to the UK’s, but different to US’s, where plots tend to be self-contained (see pages 420 and 422 of this article).

Third, while Australia’s first two jihadist plots were guided by established organisations, after 2003 they have been self-starting. That is, the subsequent plots had international linkages (and certainly inspiration) but the initiative and planning occurred among the small group of perpetrators, without outside support. Australia’s lack of externally-guided plots after 2003 contrasts with the US, UK, Canada, Germany, Spain, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, which instead experienced a mixture of externally-guided and self-starting plots.

Fourth, Australia’s jihadist scene has been closely monitored. In both the Pendennis and Neath cases there was evidence of aspiring Australian jihadists attempting to train or fight overseas but being prevented by the state (often through ASIO confiscating their passports). The small and interlinked nature of our jihadist scene, the vast size and budgets of our security agencies, and consistent cooperation from local Muslim communities, have all made this possible. Authorities have investigated and gathered evidence on jihadist plots at their very early stages, and indeed been accused (sometimes accurately) of being overzealous.

Fifth, Australia’s jihadist scene has been quite low-tech. In the four major plots, the jihadists do not appear to have first met each other online, communicated extensively online, or partaken in technologically sophisticated plots. Their main use of the internet appears to have been to download massive amounts of extremist videos and documents (including instructional material). I am less confident on this point as much of the publically available information is dated and very little of the 2009 Holsworthy plot court material has been released. However, the evidence so far suggests the internet has been less important for jihadist radicalisation in Australia than real-world social networks that include people with experience in (or access to) camps and conflict zones.

Sixth, Australian jihadists have demographic characteristics that are similar to jihadists in other Western countries in several ways: they tend to be young Muslim men, to not have had strongly religious upbringings, and generally have a low employment status. However, they also differ in some ways, in that they are somewhat more likely to be native-born, be married and have children than jihadists in Europe. They are also disproportionately poorly educated (compared both to other Australian Muslims and to jihadists in Europe and North America) and are more likely to be of Lebanese heritage.

Finally, Australian jihadism has not been occurring over a long time period. It is largely a post-2000 phenomenon, unlike the US and France which experienced jihadist plots during the 1990s. It also appeared to be declining. The most serious activity occurred from 2003-2005, with the 2009 Holsworthy plot being the most significant incident since. 2010 and 2011 were rather quiet years.

Overall then, before 2012 Australia had a very small, interlinked, closely-monitored, low-tech, and apparently declining jihadist scene, involving young men of somewhat-similar backgrounds to jihadists in other Western countries. It manifested itself in four major plots, many attempts to train or fight in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon, Somalia and to lesser extent Yemen, and a range of other actions. Their activities tended be externally-guided at first but after 2003 were self-starting.

So did anything change in 2012? The next post will address the key events of this year, and the final one will discuss what has changed and what it means.

A tentative table on far-right radicalism

Recently I’ve been researching the far-right and became intrigued by a section in the report Blind Spot? Security Narratives and Far-Right Violence in Europe, in which the author identifies both parallels and crucial differences between the old neo-Nazi far-right and the new anti-Muslim far-right. More recently I read Preventing and Countering Far-Right Extremism, a valuable country-by-country report on these movements. One of the authors, Anders Ravik Jupskas, divides far-right movements into three categories: neo-Nazi, white nationalist and anti-Muslim (using slightly different terms). Another of the authors, Matthew Goodwin, wrote of three distinct waves of far-right activity in the UK that closely mirrored these categories.

I’ve become interested in whether this three-way categorisation is valuable or if it is an oversimplification. Are there clear distinguishing characteristics for each of these three categories, and do groups neatly fit into them?

For this reason, I’ve made this table listing what I consider to be the key characteristics of each of these strands, based significantly on those two reports but also on my own research so far.

This typology is of far-right radicalism, not far-right extremism. Therefore all the groups in it are radical (in that their politics diverge substantially from the mainstream) but not all are extremists (hostile to liberal democracy and condoning illegal activity, particularly violence).

The title says “tentative” for a reason. A big reason I established this blog was to get feedback on ideas while they are still in the formative stage. I am keen to hear thoughts (through comments, Twitter or email) on what you think this table may have right or wrong, and why.


White nationalist


Construction of the invading enemy


Non-whites (some flexibility for those who adopt “our” way of life)

Muslims (often cast as simply extremist Muslims, but very broadly defined)

Construction of the establishment enemy

Jews and the Zionist Occupied Government

Multiculturalist elites (often with talk of Jewish influence)

Multiculturalist elite (often using the term “cultural Marxists”)

Construction of the identity group under threat

White race

White nation

Liberal society, Judeo-Christian civilisation (often narrowly defined)

Form of exclusivism

Biological racism

Cultural racism (“new” racism)


Attitude towards the state

Explicitly hostile

Often hostile

Less often hostile (though Brievik and others could be foreshadowing a change)

First substantial emergence

After Second World War

1970s (though these ideas were often mainstream in earlier decades, so activism to maintain white exclusivism was less necessary)

After 9/11

Position on Israel


Anti-Israel (though changing recently)


Position on Nazism

Pro-Nazism (often explicit adoption of symbols, though this is less common now)

Disassociate themselves from Nazism, rarely draw on Nazi texts and tend to promote non-Nazi forms of white exclusivism drawn from their own national traditions (such as the White Australia Policy)

Anti-Nazi (often compare Muslims to Nazis, and European anti-Muslim groups sometimes compare themselves to the resistance movements from the Second World War)

Position on gender and sexual orientation

Opposed to gender equality and homosexuality

Often opposed to gender equality and homosexuality but not a major focus

Often explicitly support gender equality and homosexuality, claiming that Muslims are a threat to both (anti-Muslim groups with a strong conservative Christian influence are an exception)

Examples in Europe

Blood and Honour (UK and elsewhere), National Front (UK), SvP (Sweden), SMR (Sweden), Danish National Socialist Party, Danish National Front, Vigrid (Norway), Norwegian Patriots, Norwegian Resistance Movement, Dutch People’s Union, National Democratic Party of Germany,

British National Party, ND (Sweden), NU (Sweden), Danes’ Party, Democrats in Norway, Peoples Movement Against Immigration (Norway),

English Defence League, Swedish Defence League, Stop Islamization of Denmark, Danish Defence League, Norwegian Defence League, Stop Islamisation of Norway, Freedom Party (Netherlands)

Examples in Australia

Blood and Honour, Southern Cross Hammerskins, Women for Aryan Unity Australia, Australian Nationalist Movement (now defunct), White Pride Coalition of Australia (now defunct)

Australia First Party, Australian Protectionist Party, Nationalist Alternative, Australian New Nation, Confederate Action Party (now defunct), Australians Against Further Immigration (now defunct), National Action (now defunct)

Q Society, Australian Defence League, Rise Up Australia Party

A few further points:

This table is largely based on European examples, and might not fit the United States well.

This typology inevitably leads out many movements commonly grouped under the term far-right, such as many anti-abortion movements, Sovereign Citizens, old-fashioned groups established to fight perceived communist threats, etc. It is not meant to be comprehensive, and might be better characterised as a table of far-right groups that oppose the current immigration policies of Western governments.

In practice there can be a lot of overlap between the three categories, as with any typology. For example, an attempt by anti-Muslim groups to create a European wide network with a meeting on 31 March 2012 ran into trouble when a newspaper revealed the neo-Nazi connections of one of the speakers. It was also not very long ago that Nick Griffin was denying the Holocaust (see below).

One reason there is a lot of overlap is because sometimes neo-Nazi or white nationalist leaders make strategic decisions to repackage their ideology in a more palatable manner. For example, neo-Nazi leaders may instruct their followers to not mention Hitler because it drives people away.

Individuals and groups can move from one type to another. In the 1990s Nick Griffin (leader of the British National Party) was denying the Holocaust. However, when he assumed control of the BNP in 1999 he helped steer it away from neo-Nazism to the point where it is now white nationalist and even quite close to being primarily an anti-Muslim movement.

While sometimes the differences between these groups are simply a matter of calculated ideological rhetoric by some leaders, for many participants and leaders the differences are genuine and extremely important. Many people who would join the British National Party would never join a neo-Nazi group, many neo-Nazis would detest the BNP for being pro-Israel, and many non-white people might join anti-Muslim groups but almost never join white nationalist groups.

Many of the anti-Muslim groups would dispute being characterised as anti-Muslim, and claim that they are simply opposed to extremists. In practice, they perceive even the most innocuous Muslim activities as evidence of extremism and clearly hostile to Muslims as a whole.

By “attitude towards the state”, my concern is whether the groups in question see the state as an outright enemy, or whether they simply see it as simply unable or unwilling to counter the perceived threat from non-Whites or Muslims. That neo-Nazi groups are the most hostile to (current) states is shown in how they often direct violence towards the state, their construction of the “Zionist Occupied Government” (ZOG) as the source of their troubles, that they are often opposed to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, that they usually oppose increased security measures and counter-terrorism powers (fearing that they may be the targets), and that they are more willing to break the law.

By contrast, anti-Muslim far-right groups often support these wars and counter-terrorism measures, anticipating that they will be primarily directed at Muslims. As Arun Kundnani has shown, these groups are strongly influenced my mainstream security discourses. Ehud Sprinzak’s writings on “split delegitimization” are valuable here, as he argues that far-right groups usually begin with hostility to a minority and only later, gradually, become disaffected with the state. With the major exception of Breivik, anti-Muslim groups have not directed their violence at the state, whereas neo-Nazi groups have directed violence at the state for decades.

Update 1: Moved the definitions of radicalism and extremism from below the table to above.

Update 2: Storified some of the the Twitter discussion following this post. You can read the discussion here.