List of Syria-related violent incidents in Australia

The Syrian civil war raises national security concerns for Australia, not only because a number of citizens have joined the insurgency (leading to the recent proscription of Jabhat al-Nusra) but because of local violence by supporters of both sides.

To help gauge the extent of this local violence, here is a list of the incidents reported in the media so far. These are the 17 reported incidents referred to in the Sydney Morning Herald today.

I’ve intentionally included as many incidents as possible to be as comprehensive as open sources allow. Most of the events involve serious violence (arson, assaults and shootings), but not all. Also, as this list is of events reported in the media, not proven events, it may turn out in a couple of cases that the reported incident did not occur. Some of the events may turn out to be regular criminal violence that was wrongly attributed to Syria-related sectarian tensions.

However, list also likely misses several incidents. Many crimes in general are not reported to police, many crimes reported to police do not get covered in the media, and many journalists have found that victims of this Syria-related violence have been afraid to talk. For these reasons I suspect the true extent of Syria-related violence in Australia is somewhat greater than this list suggests, particularly in Sydney.

The incidents are divided by the city they occurred in, then by the side of the conflict the perpetrator was likely on, and within those categories they are listed in chronological order.


Canberra. Pro-rebellion, February 2012: Up to forty men forcibly entered the Syrian Embassy and damaged property. [ABC]


Sydney. Pro-rebellion, February 2012: A Sydney man was shot immediately after a Facebook debate over the Syria conflict. [Global Mail; The Age; SBS; Sydney Morning Herald]

Sydney. Pro-rebellion, July 2012: Suspicious fire destroyed a Bankstown chicken shop, with the owner believing he was targeted because he was a Shia Muslim. [Global Mail; The Leader; Sydney Morning Herald]

Sydney. Pro-rebellion, August 2012: A fight outside a Sydney train station hospitalised an elderly supporter of the Syrian government. [ABC]

Sydney. Pro-rebellion, November 2012: Two men were arrested after alleged threats to a Shia mosque during Ashura. [Daily Telegraph; Adelaide Now]

Sydney. Pro-rebellion, throughout 2012: A Shia man who owned a juice shop, that was targeted in the Facebook page “Boycott Tyranny”, was assaulted and extorted. [Global Mail; Sydney Morning Herald]

Sydney. Pro-rebellion, April 2013: A Sydney man was assaulted on ANZAC Day by men he believed to be followers of convicted terrorist Belal Khazaal, who had been his neighbour. [Today Tonight]

Sydney. Pro-rebellion, May 2013: Jamal Daoud, an opponent of the Syrian insurgency, was punched in front of Today Tonight cameras. [Today Tonight]


Sydney. Side unclear, August 2012: Four shootings in quick succession were reported as having possible links to the Syria conflict. [ABC]


Melbourne. Pro-rebellion, March 2012: A petrol bomb attack was carried out against a Turkish Alawite centre in North Coburg. [Global Mail; The Age]

Melbourne. Pro-rebellion, date unclear but early to mid 2012.: An Alawite man was attacked in the street by six men. [The Australian]

Melbourne. Pro-rebellion, date unclear but early to mid 2012: Suspicious fire destroyed an Alawite prayer room in Greenvale. [The Australian; The Australian]

Melbourne. Pro-rebellion, November 2012: Armed men confronted and chased the Alawite owner of shop in Thomastown, telling him “we’re going to shut you down, you Alawite dog.” [The Australian; Today Tonight]

Melbourne. Pro-rebellion, date unclear: An Alawite Muslim’s house was firebombed. [Today Tonight]


Melbourne. Anti-rebellion, date unclear: Arson attack occurred against the car yard owned by the husband of Sonya el-Abbas, whose brother had died in Syria. [The Australian]

Melbourne. Anti-rebellion, date unclear: Another arson attack occurred against the car yard owned by the husband of Sonya el-Abbas, this time caught on tape. [The Australian; Today Tonight]

Melbourne. Anti-rebellion, date unclear: Drive by shooting attempt against the house of Sonya el-Abbas. [The Australian]


Feel free to send any incidents I may have missed, with sources.

The limits of Australian intelligence oversight

This is another short post to announce a new publication. Yesterday The Strategist (the blog of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute) published a post of mine on the oversight of Australian intelligence agencies.

The post argues that Australian intelligence agencies are excessively secret, and that their accountability mechanisms fall short, when compared to several other liberal democracies.

It was part of a conversation The Strategist was having on intelligence oversight. I’ve pasted the relevant posts below.


Tobias Feakin, Looking through the Prism, 17 June 2013

Andrew Davies, Government surveillance and Australia’s multiple watchdogs, 19 June 2013

Andrew Zammit, Australian intelligence organisations: the limits of oversight, 24 June 2013

Nic Stuart, Orwell’s dilemma: more reflections on intelligence oversight, 25 June 2013

Andrew Davies, Even more reflections on intelligence, 4 July 2013

Kristy Bryden, A little transparency, please, 7 August 2013


Update 1: Added Andrew Davies’ latest post on 4 July.

Update 2: Added Kristy Bryden’s on 25 August.

Two new articles

Blogging has been light this month, but I’ve had two recent publications you may like to see.

The first is this post on the ideological diversity of terrorism, published on Fatima Measham’s blog This is Complicated.

The post was prompted by the apparent return of the idea that ‘not all Muslims are terrorists, but nearly all terrorists are Muslims’. This idea seemed to have faded away a bit after the attacks by Anders Breivik and Wade Michael Page, but has returned in some circles following the attacks in Boston and Woolwich. After Andrew Bolt stated that “[w]e have the right to worry, and even the right to suspect every time a bomb goes off that Muslim hands set the detonator”, I felt the need to present the available terrorism statistics and show that jihadism is far from the only threat.

That said, the post does show that jihadism indeed poses the greatest current terror threat to Australia. For more detail on that threat, have a look at my upcoming article (paywalled) in Studies in Conflict and Terrorism.


After 2003, Australia’s domestic jihadist plots shifted from being externally-guided to being entirely self-starting, which was out of sync with international trends. To identify the causes behind this turning point, this paper first provides a brief overview of jihadist activity in Australia, showing how the post-2003 shift differentiates it from comparable countries. The paper then examines several potential explanations for the shift that prove insufficient. Following that, the paper demonstrates that the shift occurred because key facilitators between Australia and South Asia were removed or deterred. This factor, combined with the limited strategic importance of Australia, low levels of jihadist radicalisation, and limited diaspora involvement from the countries most central to al-Qaeda operations, explains Australia’s specific pattern of jihadist activity.

Note that this is not the final version of the article. Rather, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism is providing a new service of allowing the articles to go online before final publication, so that authors’ research findings can reach the public as early as possible, as explained here:

For selected journals, Taylor & Francis offers the Accepted Manuscript (AM) Online feature, whereby the accepted (but unedited and uncorrected) manuscript is posted online, normally five working days after receipt at Taylor & Francis, and appear in a “Latest articles” list on the journal’s webpage. The posted file is clearly identified as an unedited author’s accepted manuscript that has been scheduled for publication. Copy-editing, typesetting, and review of the resulting proof are then undertaken on this manuscript before formal publication of the Version of Record (VoR). During production and pre-press, errors may be discovered which could affect the content, and all legal disclaimers that apply to the journal relate to the AM Online version.

The final version will be out in September this year.

An ASIO indefinite detention collection

This is a collection of pieces I’ve written about Australia indefinitely detaining refugees who receive adverse security assessments.

There are currently 60-odd people who have had their asylum claims assessed by Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) and been certified as genuine refugees, but have then been deemed security risks by ASIO. They are detained for potentially the rest of their lives (based on decisions made in closed processes) because of poorly-founded claims that national security requirements leave no other option.

I’ve put these five articles and posts together, with summaries, to act as a backgrounder on this topic. Each piece contains plenty of links for anyone doing further research, and they are presented in chronological order.


Give refugees the right to appeal security assessments – just like the rest of us
The Conversation
03 May 2012

This article was prompted by a report released in March 2012 by the Joint Select Committee on Australia’s Immigration Detention Network. That report called for adversely assessed refugees to be given the right to appeal through the Security Appeals Division of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

The Immigration Minister and his Opposition counterpart were rejecting the calls for appeal rights by simply asserting “national security”. This article pointed out that the proposed appeal method did not involve making intelligence public, and argued that there were no compelling national security arguments against it.

On December 2012 there was some progress, as the government established a review mechanism headed by former judge Margaret Stone. But this falls short of the independent scrutiny that could be applied by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, and even this semi-appeal mechanism faces the prospect of being shut down by a Coalition Government after the next election.


ASIO and indefinite detention: choosing the wrong target
The Murphy Raid
21 May 2012

This article addressed some activists who placed the blame for this situation chiefly on ASIO, and who saw these detentions as evidence of an intelligence agency out of control.

The article argued the responsibility does not lie with ASIO but with the legislation, and therefore our elected leaders. It outlined how the detention process worked and the relevant laws and policies that result in people being indefinitely detained with no right of appeal. It argued that ASIO was simply following the law, and that making a bogeyman of ASIO was misguided for three reasons.

First, because it directs the focus away from the people actually responsible. Second, an intelligence agency in a liberal democracy has no business challenging the legislation that governs it. Third, it plays into the false portrayal of this refugee dilemma as one of security versus softness.


Resources: new information about ASIO security assessments
The Murphy Raid
03 July 2012

This post presented two new sources that shed some light on how the security assessment process actually worked.

One was an Australian National Audit Office report that gave a large-scale overview of ASIO assessments, (for visa applicants, people applying for sensitive jobs etc) with plenty of statistics and a particular focus on boat arrivals.

The other was the transcripts of the proceedings of a High Court challenge to detention by one of the adversely assessed refugees. Some parts of the transcripts provided new information on the actual process of the security assessment, and whether they met the standards of procedural fairness.


What do ASIO’s adverse security assessments of refugees actually mean?
Right Now (originally published in The Murphy Raid)
7 May 2013

This article put aside the questions of appeal rights and procedural fairness to look at the bigger question of whether an adverse assessment should result in indefinite detention at all.

It made the point that an ASIO adverse assessment is an intelligence-based predictive judgement that someone might pose a risk. The assessments are not comparable to criminal convictions and do not prove these people to be dangerous. It argued that adverse assessments do not justify indefinite detention, that it is difficult to find a single security expert who supports the government’s current approach and that there are alternative ways of addressing security risks.


As a High Court challenge looms, are there alternatives to Australia’s indefinite detention policy?
The Conversation
22 May 2013

This article explored what some of the alternatives to indefinite detention actually are.

It argued that the adversely assessed refugees could be released on conditional visas and then subjected to various security measures depending on the threat posed. These measures include surveillance, criminal charges if the continued active support for LTTE while in Australia, proscribing the LTTE, control orders, and control order-like measures imposed through DIAC.

Some of the alternatives have their own dilemmas that would need to be debated (the old Temporary Protection Visas had unnecessary restrictions on employment, control orders and group proscription raise various civil liberties issues, etc). In my view the options chosen should be tailored to the specific security risk each individual is assessed to pose and there should be independent oversight and periodic review to ensure that any restrictions on liberty are only maintained as long as necessary.

However, the article was not intended prescribe a specific ideal solution, but to demonstrate how weak the case for indefinite detention is by showing that there are plenty of alternatives. It would be a sign of progress if public discussion moved on from simply accepting indefinite detention to debating the best alternatives to it.


I hope you find those five pieces useful. For those who want to help change this tragic situation, I recommend you visit Letters For Ranjini.