New resources on Australia’s extreme-right, FARC, cyber security and more

Another quick post of updates about new publications.

I’ve published a new AVERT post, Learning the Rules: Resources on the Complexities of Counter-Terrorism in Australia:

If you search “Australian counter-terrorism” in Google Image, the results are usually pictures of heavily armed police officers or soldiers, possibly raiding a house, guarding an iconic location, or standing outside an armoured vehicle. There are good reasons for the popularity of such attention-grabbing images; they convey the idea of preventing deadly acts of terrorism more simply than images of people sitting behind desks.

However, while the police and military services both play crucial roles, counter-terrorism also involves many other parts of Australia’s system of government.

In this post, I share a collection of resources that provide an inside look at different counter-terrorism roles played by various government bodies, including the police but not limited to them. These resources provide insights from:

· Coroners who have led inquests when counter-terrorism has gone wrong and people have been killed;

· Police officers who have been involved in the monitoring, investigation and arrest of terrorist suspects.

· Judges who have presided over the trials of accused terrorists, which often involved new and untested laws;

· Statutory officials who have been tasked with overseeing the use of counter-terrorism laws and other national security powers;

Mario Peucker and Debra Smith have edited a new book, The Far-Right in Contemporary Australia, with lots of great authors:

This book is the first to elaborate on radical and extreme right movements in contemporary Australia. It brings together leading scholars to present cutting edge research on various facets and manifestations of Australia’s diverse far-right, which has gained unprecedented public presence and visibility since the mid-2010s.
The thematic breadth of the chapters in this volume reflects the complexity of the far-right in Australia, ranging from the attitudes of far-right populist party voters and the role of far-right groups in anti-mosque protests, to online messaging and rhetoric of radical and extreme right-wing movements. The contributions are theoretically grounded and come from a range of disciplines, including media and cultural studies, sociology, politics, and urban studies, exploring issue of far-right activism on the micro and macro level, with both qualitative and quantitative research methods.

Alexandra Phelan has published an article in Studies in Conflict and Terrorism on the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), called FARC’s Pursuit of “Taking Power”: Insurgent Social Contracts, the Drug Trade and Appeals to Eudaemonic Legitimation:

This paper argues that eudaemonic legitimation is a useful tool in understanding how insurgencies seek to justify their “effectiveness” and “performance” vis-à-vis the state in order to enhance authority and mobilise support for their strategic objectives. By examining primary FARC documents, conference and plenary findings, and select interviews with former and active FARC, ELN and M-19 members, it demonstrates how FARC constructed social contracts and integrated illicit financing into its operations as a strategy to appeal to its eudaemonic legitimation in its areas of proto-state influence, in turn aiming to mobilise support and consolidate a full-spectrum normative system. “Effectiveness” in FARC’s strategic approach through rule-setting allowed the organisation to expand to control significant portions of Colombian territory, which to a degree impacted positively on social mobilisation and challenged the government’s legitimacy by consolidating power structures in areas where there was a lack of government authority. FARC further appealed to social and economic “performance” by using revenue from its fundraising activities through engagement in the coca trade and kidnap for ransom to not only strengthen its military capacity, but also implement social initiatives and provide material goods. In turn, FARC was able to develop zones of security through the creation of social contracts in which stable economic practices were able to solidify, contributing in its effectiveness in providing proto-state authority and allowing for insurgent expansion.

Debra Smith & Steven Talbot have published an article in the Journal of Policing, Intelligence and Counter Terrorism, called How to make enemies and influence people: a Social Influence Model of Violent Extremism (SIM-VE):

This paper proposes a Social Influence Model of Violent Extremism (SIM-VE). In the context of increasing concern regarding the role of the internet in engaging people in violent extremist groups, particular attention is paid to the nexus between offline and online environments. The article addresses some of the barriers to developing predictive modelling to identify who will undertake an act of violent extremism and discusses how the SIM-VE model provides a conceptual framework to inform the development of online data gathering and information sorting processes that are relevant to enhancing structured professional judgement of risk. Strengths and limitations of the model are also discussed.

Finally, Katja Theodorakis and Clint Arizmendi have published a report, Cyber Security in a Contested Age – Geopolitical Challenges and Opportunities for Australia and Germany:

The publication originated as a result of the ‘1st Australia Germany 1.5 Track Cyber Security Dialogue’ held in Canberra in June 2018 – it is not a direct summary of the proceedings but draws on and further develops some of the key themes that emerged during the Dialogue. This Dialogue, titled “Mapping the Field: The New Ecology of Cyber Security Challenges”, explored crucial aspects of contemporary cybersecurity issues: geopolitical implications of a shifting global order; international cyber norms; military cyber operations; and public-private partnerships. The attendees, German and Australian cyber security professionals, government representatives, academic experts and private sector representatives discussed current and emerging threats and opportunities in cyberspace to enhance multi-agency and partner coordination and cooperation.

Several distinct trends identified through the Dialogue are addressed in this paper:

•Attribution, deterrence and the problems associated with these concepts a shifting operating environment;

•The effect such trends have upon traditional methods of diplomacy, especially when the integrity and privacy of such engagements is no longer guaranteed;

•What defensive measures should look like. Are methods such as ‘hacking back’effective and/ or productive?; What are our responsibilities and accountabilities, as democratic societies in choosing such measures?

Australia and Germany share similar challenges and approaches in this field. Questions at the forefront of policy-making debate query how governments can keep up with technology industry innovation that often out paces, if not drives, military adaptation. How can deterrence and attribution be used effectively – from a national security perspective – against a backdrop of societies that seek to be increasingly anonymous and where privacy legislation, such as the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), has global implications for governments and the private sector alike? At the same time, the two countries’ cyber security strategies also differ on a number of aspects; in this way, to compare and contrast approaches can be fruitful for gaining a deeper understanding of the problem-set and what can be done about it. Ultimately, the analysis paper will demonstrate that in order to effectively manage and mitigate within a cyber ecosystem, a combination of political leverage, diplomacy, dialogue and deterrence is required in order to safeguard State sovereignty.

Enjoy!

More writing and other updates

Having not posted for a while, here is an update on some recent writings by myself, by some colleagues, by people in related research areas, and news on some Australian terrorism cases recently resolved in the courts.

I have published a new AVERT post, Captured Australian Islamic State members: whose problem? The post discusses the dilemmas involved in dealing with the 40-ish (so far) Australians captured by the Syrian Democratic Forces in north-east Syria, arguing that more should be done to repatriate these Australians in order to prosecute the adults and protect the children. My aim is to convey how genuinely difficult the situation is, while nonetheless showing the practical and moral failings of Australia’s current approach.

For a detailed look at this international problem, see Brian Jenkins’ new CTC Sentinel article: Options for Dealing with Islamic State Foreign Fighters Currently Detained in Syria.

In other publication news, a report I co-authored with Michele Grossman, Susan Carland and Hussein Tahiri back in 2016-2017 has now been published: The roles of women in supporting and opposing violent extremism: understanding gender and terrorism in contemporary Australia.

Also, Judith Betts and Mehal Krayem have published a journal article about the demonisation of Lebanese-Australians, focusing on Peter Dutton’s 2016 characterisation of Australia’s intake of Lebanese migration during the late 1970s as a “mistake” (and the subsequent debates). One part of the article, which I greatly appreciate, addresses how the terrorist threat was used as proof of this “mistake” and how some of my own writing was used by commentators to support this flawed argument.

However, there’s a lot more to the article than that. Betts and Krayem also go back through the original Cabinet documents from the 1970s which are commonly cited to support the “mistake” argument and show how the documents have been been misrepresented. Betts and Krayem also show how misleading many of the talking points were. For example, Julie Bishop claimed that Dutton was being misrepresented and that he was merely decrying Australia’s inadequate settlement services for Lebanese people fleeing the civil war. If Dutton’s argument was indeed just that the Fraser government should have done a better job of providing settlement support, then I would  agree with him (as would Fraser, who said in 2009 that “If there was a failure of government in those early months it was in resettlement programs and planning”). However, Betts and Krayem diligently trawl through Dutton’s actual words and show that “[d]espite her assertion, we were unable to find any public acknowledgement on Dutton’s part of the lack of settlement assistance provided to Lebanese in the mid‐70s”.

Their main article is behind a paywall, but Judith Betts summarises its key arguments in this post on Pearls and Irritations. Betts also wrote a follow-up article in Inside Story, delving deeper into the Cabinet documents from 1976 to understand the decision-making process at the time, which resulted in the poorly-implemented settlement process, exacerbating social and economic disadvantage. Her Inside Story article also covers how Canada did a better job of facilitating Lebanese migration during same period, to help people flee the horrific civil war, and that those ” who went to Canada haven’t had to suffer the indignity of being labelled a mistake by their immigration minister.”

Meanwhile, there’s been a bunch of other new posts on the AVERT blog, mostly discussing the Christchurch terrorist attack. Debra Smith discusses some of her research (with Mario Peucker and Muhammad Iqbal) on Victoria’s extreme-right, and what insights it can provide in light of the attack. Michele Grossman answers some questions on what the attack tells us about social divisions. Jay Marlowe reflects on some problems with the “this is not us” response to the attack. And Matteo Vergani suggests that the media needs a new code of ethics for reporting on terrorism.

The University of Western Australia has published a radicalisation blog series, based on a recent symposium. There’s an introductory post by Shamit Saggar and Samina Yasmeen, followed by contributions from Shamit Saggar, Hass Dellal, Leila Ben McharekMichele Grossman, Raafia Raees Khan, and Rizwana Abdul Azeez.

Finally, several terrorism prosecutions came to an end recently:

  • Khaled Khayat has been found guilty for his role in the Islamic State plot to bomb an Etihad flight and then attack members of the public with a chemical weapon. The jury could not come to a verdict on his brother, Mahmoud Khayat, and he will be retried later this year.
  • Musa Cerantonio and five others have been sentenced for their attempt to join insurgents in the Philipines.
  • Ihsas Khan was sentenced for his Islamic State-inspired stabbing in Sydney.
  • Momena Shoma was sentenced for her Islamic State-inspired stabbing in Melbourne.
  • And NSW man Haisem Zahab was sentenced for trying to develop missile-detection and missile-guidance systems for Islamic State. This was an unusual case, and the sentencing document is extremely detailed and interesting.

More writing and other updates

Following on from last week’s post, this post provides some further updates on my writing and on Australian terrorism-related news.

Writing updates

I’ve had a new piece published on AVERT Commentary. Its the second part of a series tracing how Australia’s jihadist plots transformed after the rise of Islamic State:

If you combine the table presented in those posts with the table of proven and alleged plots from pages 16-17 of my ASPI Counterterrorism Yearbook chapter, you’ll get quite a detailed overview of Australian jihadist activity since September 2014.

I also want to correct an error I made in the ASPI chapter. For footnote 86 I wrote “Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, Estimates, transcript, 23 October 2018, 62–66.” I should have written pages 99-100.

I also wrote in the chapter that “Eight Australian juveniles have now been charged with terrorism offences, and at least four have been convicted.” It turns out that at least five had been convicted. They are known only as: HG, AH, EB, IM, and MHK. I had not known about EB as the non-publication order on his conviction was only lifted on 5 February. There might also be others I am unaware of.

Australian terrorism-related updates

Last week’s post mentioned that “there are several terrorism trials currently underway in Sydney (according to the NSW Courts Registry app) which should be incredibly interesting, but I’ve seen absolutely no media reporting of them so I am guessing that there are loads of suppression orders.” These cases are now being reported on.

The first was the trial of Mustafa Dirani. On 14 March a jury found him guilty of being involved in the 2015 murder of NSW Police employee Curtis Cheng (he was the fourth person to be convicted over this terrorist attack). You also might remember Mustafa Dirani from the false “plastic sword” claim.

The other case was the trial of the two men charged over the alleged 2017 Sydney plane bombing plot, which began to be reported this week.

Meanwhile Amer Khayat, an Australian man facing the death penalty in a Lebanese court due to alleged involvement in the alleged plane plot, has had his case adjourned until 30 April while the court prepares to examine documents provided by the Australian government. At a press conference in August 2017 the Australian Federal Police indicated that they believed that he had been duped, stating that “[w]e will be alleging that the person who was to carry the IED (improvised explosive device) on the plane had no idea they were going to be carrying an IED”.

In other local terrorism news, a new sentencing date has been set for Omarjan Azari.He will be sentenced on 29 March for his role in the terrorist plot disrupted by the Operation Appleby raids in September 2014.

On 15 March the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security held a public hearing on proposed new Temporary Exclusion Orders directed at foreign fighters. The transcript is now available.

A Turkish court has sentenced Neil Prakash, the most high-profile Australian member of Islamic State, to seven and half years in prison.

In Syria, a woman believed to be Australian Islamic State member Zehra Duman is attempting to return home.

Finally, the aftermath of the tragic terrorist attack against Muslims in Christchurch, perpetrated by an Australian white supremacist, has seen several potentially-related incidents occuring here (some linked, some possibly not). A Queensland man has been charged for allegedly ramming his car into a Mosque’s gates and screaming obscenities. An Adelaide man has been charged with weapons offences after reportedly posting online comments in support of the Christchurch massacre. And the NSW Joint Counter Terrorism Team searched properties in Sydney to support New Zealand’s investigation into the attack.

Resources: some background to the Christchurch massacre

This is another quick post, to share some resources relevant to the Christchurch massacre.

The perpetrator, an Australian white supremacist, murdered 50 people (so far) at two mosques in New Zealand, which is more people than were killed in most terrorist attacks in Western Europe and North America in recent decades (with some major exceptions such as Oklahoma 1995, the 9/11 attacks, Madrid 2004, London 2005, Oslo 2011, and Paris 2015). This is the largest death toll from any terrorist attack, and mass shooting, inside either Australia or New Zealand for nearly a century (since the atrocities against the Indigenous populations). The attack has left dozens more people maimed and wounded. And as terrorism is intended to, the attack has also had impact on a far wider audience than the immediate victims, traumatising entire communities.

It’s long-term political impact, in New Zealand, Australia and eslewhere, isn’t yet clear. Whether it leads to a moment of political unification rather than further polarisation, and whether it will prompt various mainstream political and media figures to repudiate the far-right and stop stigmatising Muslims rather than react unreflectively, depends on the choices people make in the coming weeks, months and years.

There’s been a lot of valuable commentary on this tragedy, but it’s still early days and there’s a lot we don’t know. So here are a some pieces of excellent research published before the massacre, which help provide context:

Jacob Aasland Ravndal and Tore Bjørgo , “Investigating Terrorism from the Extreme Right: A Review of Past and Present Research“, Perspectives on Terrorism, Volume XII, Issue 6, 2018. For an introduction to academic research on modern far-right violent extremism, this is probably the best single article to start with (it introduces a Special Issue of the journal).

J.M. Berger, “The Alt-Right Twitter Census: Defining and Describing the Audience for Alt-Right Content on Twitter“, VOX-Pol, 15 October 2018. This is one of the few quantitative studies available on online alt-right activity.

Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens, “A Neo-Nationalist Network: The English Defence League and Europe’s Counter-Jihad Movement“, International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, 14th March 2013. This report examines the transnational “counter-jihad” movement which influenced Anders Breivik and, less directly, Breivik copycats (though Breivik was also strongly influenced by more traditional extreme-right ideas).

I also would have shared Fred Halliday’s book chapter “Anti-Muslimism and Contemporary Politics: One Ideology or Many” from his 1995 book Islam and the Myth of Confrontation, but it doesn’t seem to be online.

Finally, I’ve been thinking recently about how victims of terrorism are rarely focused on in the field of terrorism studies, other than as statistics. The media has always done a much better job of conveying this human side of the story than the academy has, and social media at its best can do the same. So I strongly recommend Khaled Beydoun’s tweet thread which provides a personal story of each person murdered by this extremist.

Resources: terrorism and counter-terrorism in New Zealand

I made a small collection of resources about the recent history of terrorism and counter-terrorism in Aotearoa / New Zealand. Sometimes this history is closely linked to developments in Australia (such as the jihadist and Ananda Marga cases), while other times it’s quite separate.

General:

John Battersby, “Can Old Lessons Inform Current Directions: Australia, New Zealand, and Ananda Marga’s Trans-Tasman ‘Terrorism’ 1975–1978“, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, Published online 20 Feb 2019 (paywalled).

John Battersby, “Terrorism Where Terror Is Not: Australian and New Zealand Terrorism Compared“, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, Volume 41, Issue 1, 2018 (paywalled).

John Battersby, “Policing terrorism in a void“, New Zealand International Review, Volume 41, Issue 4, July 2016 (paywalled).

Aaron Y. Zelin, “New Zealand’s Jihadis“, New Zealand International Review, Volume 40, Issue 2, April 2015.

Richard Shortt, “Raising New Zealand’s Terrorism Threat Level: Is Transparency Important in National Security?“, Salus Journal, Issue 3, Number 1, 2015.

The formal agreement to establish the Australia-New Zealand Counter-Terrorism Committee in 2012.

B. K. Greener-Barcham, “Before September: A History of Counter-terrorism in New Zealand“, Australian Journal of Political Science, Volume 37, Issue 3, 2002 (paywalled).

John E Smith, “New Zealand’s Anti-Terrorism Campaign: Balancing Civil Liberties, National Security, And International Responsibilities“, Fulbright New Zealand, December 2003.

The Urewara raids:

Jo Lines-MacKenzie, “Tuhoe community 10 years after the Urewera raids“, Stuff, 14 October 2017.

OPERATION EIGHT: The Report of the Independent Police Conduct Authority“, Independent Police Conduct Authority of New Zealand, May 2013.

The Rainbow Warrior bombing:

Janet Wilson, “The Sinking of the Rainbow Warrior: Responses to an International Act of Terrorism“, Journal of Post-Colonial Cultures and Societies, Volume 1, Issue 1, January 2010.

Ramesh Thakur, “A Dispute of Many Colours: France, New Zealand and the ‘Rainbow Warrior’ Affair“, The World Today, Volume 42, Issue 12, December 1986 (paywalled).

Updates on terrorism court cases and parliamentary hearings

There have been a few developments in Australian counter-terrorism prosecutions and parliamentary hearings over the past month. This post helps keep track of them.

Shoma hearing

In Melbourne, Momena Shoma had a plea hearing on Tuesday 29 January. Shoma was the Bangladeshi student who stabbed her homestay host one month after arriving in Australia. She had told police that she entered Australia purely to carry out an attack in support of Islamic State (IS).

The hearing revealed that three days before the attack she messaged a friend through WhatsApp, saying that she needed “to gather more courage… to carry out his [Allah’s] blessing”. However, she is believed to have carried out the attack entirely on her own. In Bangladesh she had interacted with IS on Facebook and reportedly sought to marry a man who went on to fight for IS in Iraq, but there is no suggestion that IS directed the attack itself.

Most importantly, the hearing also revealed the trauma Shoma put her victims through. The stabbing victim, Roger Singaravelu, said that he lived in fear and was now unable work, telling the court that “I don’t believe I will ever recover,” and “I can’t escape what happened.” The court was also told that his daughter suffers flashbacks and nightmares.

Namoa and Baydeh sentencing

In Sydney, Alo-Bridget Namoa and Sameh Baydeh have been sentenced over their terrorist plot. They conspired to rob non-Muslims on New Years Eve 2015, and then to carry out further violence. They were sentenced to around four years each. These are the shortest sentences I’ve seen for anyone in Australia convicted of “conspiracy to do act(s) in preparation for terrorist act(s)”. According to the sentencing document, this is partly a result of them having renounced their beliefs and (particularly in the case of Baydeh) assisted authorities.

Azari hearing

Also in Sydney, Omarjan Azari had a sentence hearing on Friday 1 February. He the first person charged with a terrorism offence following the Operation Appleby raids in September 2014. This was when around 800 NSW Joint Counter Terrorism Team (JCTT) officers raided properties across Sydney, arresting and questioning 15 people, while 70 Queensland JCTT officers carried out raids in Brisbane.

These raids were a very dramatic event at the time. Now, IS is nowhere near as strong as it used to be and JCTT raids have become far more frequent and far less controversial, so it can be hard to remember the atmosphere of September 2014.  To provide some background:

Understanding these events requires briefly turning to the Middle East. September 2014 was a tumultuous month in the region, in which the confrontation between IS and the US-led military coalition reached a new level. By this time, IS had been able to successfully exploit the chaos of Syria’s civil war and the fragility of Iraq (as the political settlement forged to contain the outbreak of violence after the 2003 US invasion started to collapse). By June 2014 IS had conquered swathes of land in Iraq, including the million-strong city of Mosul, and declared itself a “Caliphate”. By August they conquered more territory, seized the Kurdish city of Sinjar and perpetrated acts of genocide against its Yazidi population, and were poised to expand further.

US President Barack Obama responded on 7 August by ordering airstrikes and assisting the Iraqi government and Kurdish Peshmerga to push back against IS. In reprisal, IS publicly murdered American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff. On 10 September, Obama announced a broad coalition including Australia and other traditional allies to “roll back this terrorist threat” and “ultimately destroy” IS.  Following this, IS escalated its overt and covert efforts to attack Western countries. …

….

Counter-terrorism authorities watched these developments with concern. The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) monitored local IS supporters and urged the government to raise the National Terrorism Public Alert. On 12 September the alert was raised from Medium to High.  Then on 18 September security agencies launched Australia’s largest ever series of counter-terrorism raids after intercepting a message from a Syria-based Australian IS member allegedly ordering supporters at home to murder a random member of the public. More than 800 federal and state police officers raided locations across Sydney and Brisbane to disrupt the suspected plot and its surrounding networks.

The intercepted call was between Omarjan Azari in Sydney and Mohammed Ali Baryelei in Syria. Baryelei was later killed in a US air strike, while Azari was charged with terrorism offences. His trial was stalled several times but eventually went ahead. In November 2018 a jury found him guilty. There has been little media coverage (I have only found two stories), but that might change after he is sentenced. Hopefully more information will become public about what appears to be one of IS’s first virtually planned plots.

At his sentence hearing, the judge remarked that “What has been striking to me … is how many persons who ­become involved in terrorism ­offences are very young, and there is an immaturity involved in it”. Unfortunately, as several of the attacks in Australia show, someone does not have to be mature to be able to cause harm and suffering.

Azari will be sentenced on Wednesday.

Parliamentary hearing on citizenship laws

Meanwhile, on Wednesday 30 January the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security held a public hearing on the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Strengthening the Citizenship Loss Provisions) Bill 2018. The bill will essentially reduce some of the restrictions on the citizenship-stripping laws introduced in 2015. This new bill will make it easier to revoke Australian citizenship from convicted (if inside Australia) or suspected (if outside Australia) terrorists.

As regular readers of this blog may know, I view the terrorist threat as real and serious, but I’m sceptical of the general trend of introducing increasingly powerful counter-terrorism laws. I expressed several objections to citizenship-stripping back in 2015, and no developments since have led me to change these views. Certainly not the Prakash fiasco, which was discussed a lot at the hearing.

A transcript of the hearing is now available.

Update 1: (added 15 February 2019) Azari did not end being sentenced on Wednesday 13 February, though the NSW Court Lists had listed his sentencing for then.

Update 2: (added 15 February 2019) The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security’s report on the new citizenship-stripping bill is now available. The committee was split, and the Labor members wrote a dissenting report (starting on page 41) opposing the bill.

Collected posts on terrorism studies and national security research

Following on from my 8 January post about the state of terrorism studies, I’ve made a collection of earlier Murphy Raid posts on terrorism studies and wider national security research.

Some of them simply list resources, others provide histories of particular fields or describe recent developments, reflecting my reading interests and ponderings at different times. I hope they’ll be useful to anyone interested in research in these areas.

Posts on terrorism studies:

Posts on national security, academia, and the public sphere:

Podcast news

Kate Grealy and I have released the first episode of Sub Rosa for 2019.

In the episode, Kate shares a presentation she recently gave at the University of Melbourne in November 2018, discussing the impact of countering violent extremism (CVE) policies on international development efforts in Indonesia. She discusses the implications of the international development sector engaging in work that has previously been conducted by domestic counter terrorism and security professionals. Enjoy it!

Meanwhile, I recently realised that the Australian Institute of International Affairs has a podcast, so I’ve updated my list of Australian foreign policy and national security podcasts:

This list only contains podcasts specifically focused on Australian foreign policy and national security, so it excludes many excellent Australian podcasts that are relevant to foreign policy and national security but are focused on either broader policy issues (such as Policy Forum Pod) or particular countries (such as Talking Indonesia or The Little Red Podcast) or regions (such as the New Mandala podcast) or themes (such as The Dead Prussian or Risky Business).

Two Dutch government reports on the state of the Islamic State threat

I mentioned earlier that “I want to get back to using this blog more to share valuable resources about terrorism and national security produced by a wide range of people”, rather than just sharing my own work. I’d like to start 2019 by doing exactly that.

In light of renewed debate over the Islamic State’s supposed defeat, here are a couple of resources on Islamic State’s future. The Netherlands Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations recently released two English-language reports on the state of the jihadist threat following the Islamic State’s territorial collapse. They focus not only the threat to the Netherlands, but on the threat to Europe and the wider picture generally.

The first report is A perspective on the transformation of ISIS following the fall of the ‘caliphate’: Continuation of roles, transformation of threats. The report synthesises academic literature on the current situation. I’m sceptical of some of its concluding points, such as the argument that we are shifting to a new phase of “personal or leaderless jihad”. That argument has been made before; I was sceptical of it some years ago and remain so. But that’s just a small part of this detailed and interesting report, which discusses many elements of the Islamic State threat: returnees, home-grown plotters, the core organisation and its shift back to guerrilla tactics, external branches, funding arrangements, relations with al-Qaeda, as well as the online dimension.

The second report is The legacy of Syria – Global jihadism remains a threat to Europe. This report is shorter and is based on the intelligence from the Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD). It focuses not only on the Islamic State but also al-Qaeda, and concludes that as “a result of the conflict in Syria, the movement has grown and professionalised.”

Both reports are well worth reading. I would more strongly recommend the first report than the second, as it is more detailed and informative, but the second does have the benefit of insights from information the authors of the first report wouldn’t have had access to.

Writing updates

I’ve published a new blog post on the website of the AVERT Research Network at Deakin University, where I am now blogging monthly. The post, What does Australian law say about possessing terrorist instructional material?, looks at the legal position of publications such as Inspire magazine. This is something I’ve been thinking about for a few years, ever since the failed Karabegovic prosecution, but had never written on until now.

Also, a Murphy Post from June this year, Islamic State’s virtually planned terror plots: a note on current and future research, has kindly been republished on the VOX-Pol blog.

I also have an update to make about an earlier piece. In my first AVERT post, Which Australian terrorist plots have been directly connected to Islamic State, and how?, I made a vague reference to the Omarjan Azari trial:

For example, in September 2014 a man in Sydney was arrested under the New South Wales Joint Counter Terrorism Team’s Operation Appleby. The Sydney man, who had reportedly had his passport cancelled by ASIO, was allegedly in contact with Syria-based Australian IS member.  Police alleged that the Syria-based Australian IS figure ordered the suspect to murder random members of the public in Sydney. I am being excessively vague about this one as the suspect is currently on trial. We will need to wait to see whether the allegations hold up in court.

Since then, the jury has found him guilty. I assume he will be sentenced in the coming months and hopefully more information about his case will become public.

In other news, a couple of months ago I resigned from my job at APO (Swinburne University), to focus more on my PhD. I was sad to do so. I had worked there for over seven years and it was a fantastic job, but the PhD is my most important piece of work to focus on at the moment, along with the book I’m co-authoring with Debra Smith on the history of terrorism and counter-terrorism in Australia.

Finally, I want to get back to using this blog more to share valuable resources about terrorism and national security produced by a wide range of people.

I recently read this interview with Patrick Skinner, in the CTC Sentinel, at least three or so times. Skinner is a former CIA case officer (and analyst with The Soufan Group) who decided to become a rookie police officer in his local neighbourhood of Savannah, Georgia. The humility and thoughtfulness shown in this interview contrasts so much with the political grandstanding we often see about terrorism. And he provides a pertinent warning:

I’m very aware at work every day of the potential consequences of doing something wrong to someone, for example humiliating or disrespecting them. The damage is so immediate. One bad impression will overcome 10 good experiences. I’m hyper aware of the fact that I am acting in the name of the state. And I am very, very, very hesitant to use that power until I know that I’m right. And does that mean that I’m a hesitating cop? Well, no, but it probably means I’m not gonna make a lot of mistakes. I do not want to make a mistake in the name of the state, using the power of the state. But overseas, we do that a lot. It’s not our intention. We call it collateral damage, but it’s killing innocent people or it’s raids based on bad intel. You want to avoid kicking in doors in the wrong house, which we did overseas all the time. And we kind of just missed the very large impact that has on people. I would say, exercise more caution than you think you should. You really don’t want to make mistakes. I can’t stress this enough. Mistakes made in law enforcement or CT are devastating to individuals. Mistakes in law enforcement and CT made repeatedly are devastating to communities and entire systems of justice.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that recently, particularly in relation to the mistaken charges against Mohamed Nizamdeen. I strongly recommend reading the full interview.