Australian involvement in the Syrian insurgency at the end of 2013

The Murphy Raid ended 2012 with 3-part series on the state of Australian jihadism:

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

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

Australian jihadism at the end of 2012, part III: what has changed?

I was thinking of marking the end of 2013 with a similar series. However, the main development has simply been the continued involvement of Australians in the Syrian conflict, which I’ve written on several times already.

So instead, this is a post of resources on Australia and the Syrian insurgency for anyone who wants to stay up-to-date on this topic. It has past writings by me and others, plus some information on new developments.


My writings on Australians in Syria

On 26 November an article of mine was published in CTC Sentinel. It was a 2000-word piece that gives an overview of current information on Australians fighting, how it relates to past Australian jihadist activity, and what threat it may pose at home.

Earlier I wrote three other pieces on this topic. This article from April was an introduction to why the Syrian conflict raises domestic security concerns for Australia. This post from June provided a list of reported incidents of Syria-related violence in Australia (I have not come across media reports of any new incidents since then). This post from July expressed scepticism towards the estimate that 200 Australians were fighting in Syria, 100 of them with Jabhat al-Nusra (this estimate isn’t used as often now as it was then).

If you only want to read one of these articles, I recommend the CTC one, as it’s the most up-to-date and it covers the points made in the three earlier articles (though in less detail).


New developments

However, two significant developments have since occurred.

First, on December two men have been arrested in Sydney and charged with several offences under the Crimes (Foreign Incursions and Recruitment) Act 1978 for allegedly supporting al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria. Police allege that one man, Hamdi Alqudsi, was actively recruiting fighters (at least six) and facilitating their travel to Syria to join Jabhat al-Nusra and presumably the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham. They allege the other man was preparing to travel and fight with such groups.

These arrests undermine a claim from my CTC Sentinel article where I suggested the process of Australians traveling to fight in Syria was not very organised:

“In Australia’s previous foreign fighter mobilizations, well-connected individuals were usually needed to facilitate access to camps and conflict zones.[39] In the case of Syria, however, many of the Australian fighters appear to be entering via the Turkish border with few pre-existing connections to Syrian armed groups.”

The arrests indicate that at least some active recruitment and facilitation may actually have been occurring in Australia. Moreover, Federal Police Deputy Commissioner National Security Peter Drennan has said that he does not believe this case is a once-off and that several similar networks may be in place. If true, this indicates that the process of Australians travelling to fight to Syria may have recently become more organised, or may have always been more organised than it appeared.

We will have to see what comes out of this trial, and any future ones, which will be very interesting to follow.

Second, on 8 December it was reported that around 20 Australians had their passports confiscated by ASIO in the past few months because of suspicions they were planning to fight in Syria.

At the time of ASIO’s last annual report, its passport cancellation powers had been used about 70 times. Now with the new confiscations reported, that figure would be around 90.

As ASIO had used this power 18 times from mid-2012 to mid-2013 (which was more than any previous year), this means ASIO has cancelled passports around 40 times in the past 18 months. Previously, ASIO’s passport powers have not been very controversial, and have often not been noticed much at all. However, I suspect this massive escalation of their use means there will be quite a bit of controversy over them in 2014, particularly as several of the men are mounting a legal challenge.

Combined with the arrests above, it looks like the AFP and ASIO have recently decided their lack of success in preventing Australians from fighting in Syria means they have to make greater use of the legal tools they have. We will likely see further arrests and uses of these powers in 2014.


Other articles

Many other countries are concerned that foreign fighters in Syria may later pose a domestic threat. If you’re interested in the wider situation, take a look at these recent pieces by Aaron Zelin, Thomas Hegghammer and others:

Foreign Fighters in Syria: A Danger to the West?

Up to 11,000 Foreign Fighters in Syria; Steep Rise Among Western Europeans

Foreign Jihadists in Syria: Tracking Recruitment Networks

Dealing with European Foreign Fighters in Syria: Governance Challenges & Legal Implications


But more importantly…

Finally, this is all a very narrow way of looking at Syria’s civil war. The greater problem is the war itself, that it has killed over 100,000 people, caused over two million people to flee their homes, and isn’t likely to end soon. This humanitarian catastrophe is far more urgent than the conflict may later have on Australia and other Western countries.

Prompted by this War On The Rocks post, I’m going to end the year with a donation to UNICEF’s operations to help Syrian refugees. If you would like to do the same you can do so here.

1 thought on “Australian involvement in the Syrian insurgency at the end of 2013

  1. Pingback: blind: five factors influencing the foreign fighter impact |

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s