Three upcoming terrorism sentencings in Sydney

The NSW online court lists show that three men associated with two separate terror plots in New South Wales will be sentenced at the end of this week.

On Thursday 1 March at 2pm, Raban Alou and will be sentenced for his role in the October 2015 murder of NSW Police employee Curtis Cheng. He was accused of providing Cheng’s killer, 15-year old Farhad Jabar, with the handgun used in the attack. Alou pleaded guilty on 19 May 2017 to one count of “engaging in a terrorist act” for “aiding, abeting, counseling or procuring the commission of a terrorist act by Farhad Jabar Kahlil Mohammad”.

On Friday 2 March at 10am, Talal Alameddine will be sentenced for his role in the same attack. On 6 October 2017 he pleaded guilty to supplying the handgun that Alou gave to Jabar. He had some of the heavier terrorism charges withdrawn, but pleaded guilty to possessing the gun “connected with the preparation for a terrorist act, and being reckless as to that connection”.

On Friday 2 March, Tamim Khaja will be sentenced. He pleaded guilty on 29 October 2017 to “one count of planning, or preparing, a terrorist attack” for planning a mass shooting attack in Sydney, against targets such as “Timor Army Barracks at Dundas in Sydney’s north-west and the Sydney West Trial Courts at Parramatta”.


Update 1: (Added 7 March 2018) My mistake, Talal Alameddine was not being sentenced on Friday 2 March, he just had a sentence hearing.

Making sense of Home Affairs and counter-terrorism

Late last year the Department of Home Affairs was established as part of what Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called “the most significant reform of Australia’s national intelligence and domestic security arrangements in more than 40 years”. This post is to help keep track of what is being changed and what that means for Australia’s domestic counter-terrorism arrangements.

On 18 July 2017 Malcolm Turnbull announced that his government would create a new portfolio called Home Affairs, which would be responsible for all “immigration, border protection and domestic security and law enforcement agencies”. On 20 December 2017 the new Department of Home Affairs was formally established and its website became active.

However, new legislation is needed to complete the process, mainly to move the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) from the Attorney-General’s portfolio to Home Affairs. So on 7 December 2017 Turnbull introduced the Home Affairs and Integrity Agencies Legislation Amendment Bill 2017, which was referred on 8 December to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, which is still reviewing it at the moment.

One immediate impact of all this is that ministerial responsibilities for counter-terrorism have changed.

Since the 1970s, the most important ministerial position when it came to counter-terrorism (aside from the Prime Minister) was the Attorney-General, who was responsible for ASIO and the Commonwealth Police Force (later the Australia Federal Police). This began to change in May 2015 when Turnbull gave Michael Keenan, who was already the Minister for Justice, the added role of Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Counter Terrorism.

Now it has changed more radically, as the portfolios of Minister for Justice and Minister for Assisting the Prime Minister on Counter-Terrorism have been abolished and largely subsumed within the new portfolio of Home Affairs. Moreover, the Attorney-General’s portfolio has now lost most of its national security responsibilities, as they have been handed to Home Affairs. This puts most counter-terrorism responsibilities into the hand of the new Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton.

Dutton will have other ministers helping to run the Department: the Assistant Minister for Home Affairs (Alex Hawke), Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs (Alan Tudge), and the Minister for Law Enforcement and Cyber Security (Angus Taylor). However, it appears that none of these junior ministers will have a counter-terrorism role. At a recent PJCIS hearing the Department’s Secretary, Michael Pezzullo, said that “the counterterrorism minister is Mr Dutton—and solely Mr Dutton”.

While the Attorney-General’s portfolio will have very few remaining national security roles, it will still be responsible for approving ASIO warrants. The Attorney-General will also take responsibility for some key accountability mechanisms, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS) and the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor (INSLM). These bodies will be moved from the Prime Minister’s portfolio to the Attorney-General’s.

One question this raises is: what practical differences will these ministerial changes make for Australian counter-terrorism?

Looking from the outside, I would guess that it won’t change a whole lot. ASIO and the AFP will likely continue to function much as they were, as will bodies like the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) and Austrac, as they are all statutory authorities. Also, much counter-terrorism is conducted by the States, coordinating with Federal agencies and departments through operational mechanisms like Joint Counter Terrorism Teams or broader structures like the Council of Australian Governments (COAG)’s Australia New Zealand Counter-Terrorism Committee.

However, with Dutton and Pezzullo in charge, I fear that the politics of counter-terrorism and national security will be dragged even more into the politics of immigration and national identity than they already are. James Button’s excellent Monthly article is worth reading for background on this.

There are also questions about whether creating this mega-department will reduce accountability, as former Attorney-General George Brandis reportedly alluded to in a recent speech to ASIO. Also, moving accountability mechanisms like the IGIS and the INSLM from the Prime Minister to the Attorney-General would appear to be downgrading their importance, and the IGIS is not keen on this move.

On the other hand, the Turnbull government has indicated that it would boost the powers and resources of these accountability mechanisms in line with the 2017 Independent Intelligence Review’s recommendations. We will have to wait and see what happens here.

New and promising terrorism research across the disciplines: a personal list

I’ve recently been raving about the Talking Terror podcast, and how much I like its optimistic tone. The podcast focuses on some of the best terrorism research around rather than spend too much time lamenting the weaker research.

Partly inspired by that, this post shares terrorism research I’ve found particularly valuable over the past year or two.

I’ve grouped most of this research by the academic discipline it belongs to, and before presenting the list I want to make a detour to explain why that matters. Terrorism studies has always awkwardly straddled disciplines such as psychology, criminology, sociology, political science, history and law etc. It’s not unusual for a field to draw on diverse disciplines. For example the fields of civil war studies, social movement studies and security studies all do this. However, they still tend to be housed within a single dominant discipline: civil war studies is clearly at home in political science, social movement studies fits comfortably within sociology, and security studies (but not strategic studies) belongs to international relations.

In contrast, terrorism studies (though quite close to political science) has been so interdisciplinary that it doesn’t have a clear home. Thomas Hegghammer has pointed out that this contributes to the field’s reputation problem, and that this makes it important (particularly for early career researchers) to engage with their own disciplines:

… we academics should engage more with our respective disciplines, be it political science, sociology, psychology, or something else. We can keep talking terrorism across disciplines, but we should spend more time in our home departments. This means participating more in the big debates within our disciplines and publishing more in mainstream journals. …….by engaging the disciplines more, we will be better positioned to bring in new theories, methods or fresh perspectives than if we all just read the terrorism literature.

When I began studying terrorism I lacked a strong sense of how academia worked, where terrorism studies fitted in, and indeed where my own work belonged. I’ve always assumed a number of this blog’s readers are students and early career researchers themselves, so I wonder if any of you have experienced the same. For this reason I’ve divided up most of these publications by discipline, to give a sense of which aspects of terrorism different disciplines are focusing on. However, it wasn’t always a neat fit so by the end I grouped some together by their research focus.

So here is some of the terrorism research I’ve valued highly over the past couple of years, divided into criminology, psychology, sociology, political science, history, online violent extremism, countering violent extremism, and jihadism.



Two scholars from a criminological background, Gary LaFree and Michael Jensen, produced my favourite terrorism study of 2016: Final Report: Empirical Assessment of Domestic Radicalization (EADR). Whereas research on radicalisation towards terrorism sometimes fails to be cumulative, this study thoroughly mines the existing literature to find testable propositions. It then tests them against data drawn from a sample of 1600 US-based extremists, and includes both violent and non-violent extremists to allow for a controlled comparison. It does this in a much more rigorous and replicable way than many other studies.

This was the most exciting piece of research on the process of how people turn to terrorism I had read in some time. Those of us who worry about the need for greater rigour in radicalisation research should take heart from studies like this and learn from them.

Then in 2017 the Journal of Criminology & Public Policy published a series of articles discussing new data on how terrorists make use of the internet. They centre on a study of how 223 UK-based terrorists used the internet in the commission of their crimes: Paul Gill, Emily Corner, Maura Conway, Amy Thornton, Mia Bloom and John Horgan’s Terrorist Use of the Internet by the Numbers: Quantifying Behaviors, Patterns, and Processes. Gary LaFree’s entry Terrorism and the Internet, introduces and contextualises the article, while two policy essays, Susan Szmania and Phelix Fincher’s Countering Violent Extremism Online and Offline and Paul J. Taylor, Donald Holbrook and Adam Joinson’s Same Kind of Different: Affordances, Terrorism, and the Internet, respond to it.



This special issue of American Psychologist is full of fresh ideas on the psychology of terrorism, and John Horgan’s introduction is well worth reading. Clark McCauley and Sophia Moskalenko’s contribution, Understanding political radicalization: The two-pyramids model, gives a valuable overview of the many radicalisation models produced since 9/11. They rightly highlight some of these models’ weaknesses though I’m not convinced by their solution. Kiran Sarma’s article, Risk assessment and the prevention of radicalization from nonviolence into terrorism, is the best piece I have read on the problematic idea of radicalisation indicators.


Political science

There is some valuable new terrorism research coming out of political science, particularly American-based political science (which is distinguished from political science elsewhere by its heavy quantitative focus and crossover with economics).

Jacob Shapiro’s work on the organisational dynamics of terrorist groups, particularly on the principal-agent problems that arise within them, has been a strong influence on my PhD studies. You can buy his book, but to get a general sense of his work see his recent CTC Sentinel article, A Predictable Failure: The Political Economy of the Decline of the Islamic State.

For an overview of work by scholars who take a likeminded approach, see Jacob Shapiro’s review article, Terrorist Decision-Making: Insights from Economics and Political Science. For overviews of similar literature see Todd Sandler’s The Analytical Study of Terrorism: Taking Stock, and Joseph Young and Michael Findlay’s Promise and Pitfalls of Terrorism Research.

Social network analysis became popular within terrorism studies a decade ago, but has since receded somewhat. For a valuable 2016 article revisiting this approach and seeing where it can be taken, see Steven T. Zech and Michael Gabbay’s Social Network Analysis in the Study of Terrorism and Insurgency: From Organization to Politics.

More recently, we’re really starting to see more crossover between civil war studies and terrorism studies. Just as there was a lot of crossover between social movement studies and terrorism studies in the mid-2000s (often building on the earlier work of Donatella Della Porta), I’m wondering if the next big crossover will be between civil war studies and terrorism studies. I might be getting ahead of myself, but here are a few quality examples.

Barbara F. Walter recently wrote this article, The New New Civil Wars, on the prominence of jihadist movements in modern civil wars. She also wrote this excellent article, The Extremist’s Advantage in Civil Wars, on why the most extreme jihadist movements have become dominant in so many civil wars. She shows how promoting an extremist ideology can help a movement’s leadership overcome collective action problems, principal-agent problems, and commitment problems.

Another example is this article on foreign fighters in the Journal of Conflict Resolution by Alex Braithwaite and Tiffany S. Chu, Civil Conflicts Abroad, Foreign Fighters, and Terrorism at Home. There is also the Civil Wars, Violence, and International Responses research project, which includes one of the founders of modern terrorism studies, Martha Crenshaw, who recently wrote an article on Transnational Jihadism & Civil Wars. Meanwhile Stathis Kalyvas, one of the most prominent civil war scholars, just published this article on Jihadi Rebels in Civil War.

I also found this recent article, Charity Butcher’s Civil War and Terrorism: A Call for Further Theory Building, which looks promising but I have not yet read it.



As for the academic discipline of history, I haven’t found a whole lot of new work that relates directly to terrorism. However, I greatly enjoyed Giovanni Mario Ceci’s article A ‘Historical Turn’ in Terrorism Studies?, which reviews four books that take a historical approach to the study of terrorism. I’ve also been interested in Leena Malkki’s work revisiting some New Left terrorism campaigns, How Terrorist Campaigns End: The Campaigns of the Rode Jeugd in the Netherlands and the Symbionese Liberation Army in the United States. I’m also interested in Rik Coolsaet’s efforts to add to David Rapapport’s “four waves” framework by arguing that the 1920s and 1930s saw a “separatist-fascist” wave of terrorism, which has been “overlooked in almost all terrorism research, surely because it was gradually absorbed by Italian Fascism and German Nazism”.



I struggled to think of what to put under sociology, which likely reflects that I haven’t engaged much with the discipline (except for the social movement studies side of it). Sociologist Ramon Spaaij recently co-authored, with criminologist Mark S. Hamm, a book that I’m planning to read soon: The Age of Lone Wolf Terrorism. However, it might belong in the criminology section.

Some other work I’ve found valuable, but am not sure if it belongs under sociology, has been on the emotional lives of people who perpetrate terrorism. I recommend my friend Debra Smith’s article, So How Do You Feel about That? Talking with Provos about Emotion and Thomas Hegghammer’s edited collection, Jihadi Culture: The Art and Social Practices of Militant Islamists. Also see Simon Cottee’s review of the book.

So this was a difficult category. If you have any sociological works on terrorism you’d like to recommend, please do so in the comments.


We now get to the work I’ve categorised by research focus rather than disciplines.


Online violent extremism

One indispensable source of research on online violent extremism is VoxPol, who produced the study Research Perspectives on Online Radicalisation: A Literature Review 2006-2016. I also recommend similar work produced by George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, including their recent paper Digital Decay: Tracing Change Over Time Among English-Language Islamic State Sympathizers on Twitter.

There is a cohort of scholars affiliated with the International Centre for Counter-terrorism (ICCT) at The Hague who have been prodigiously producing research on terrorist narratives, counter-narratives, and information warfare. Have a read of J.M. Berger’s Countering Islamic State Messaging Through “Linkage-Based” Analysis and his Deconstruction of Identity Concepts in Islamic State Propaganda, Berger and Haroro J. Ingram’s The Strategic Logic of the “Linkage-Based” Approach to Combating Militant Islamist Propaganda: Conceptual and Empirical Foundations, and Craig Whiteside’s, Lighting the Path: the Evolution of the Islamic State Media Enterprise (2003-2016).This group is producing a lot of work and I haven’t caught up with all of it, but I recommend reading it if you are writing anything on the area.

And for an overarching perspective, looking beyond terrorism, I recommend this article by Thomas Zeitzoff, How Social Media Is Changing Conflict.


Countering violent extremism

Then there’s the area of Countering Violent Extremism (CVE), which refers to non-coercive efforts to reduce involvement in terrorist activity and encompasses the contested concepts of counter-radicalisation and de-radicalisation. Unfortunately there’s plenty of polemical writing around on CVE, either over-hyping it (which was more common several years ago) or indiscriminately condemning it. While there are certainly balanced takes around (such this War On The Rocks piece), it’s become harder to find good literature which looks at what CVE actually involves and dispassionately assesses it.

For background, this report provides the history of the concept of radicalisation as applied to terrorism, ‘All Radicalisation is Local’: The Genesis and Drawbacks of an Elusive Concept, while this report covers the history of CVE, Does CVE Work? Lessons Learned From the Global Effort to Counter Violent Extremism.

To get a sense of what CVE currently involves, see these two reports from the European Union’s Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN): Responses to Returnees: Foreign Terrorist Fighters and their Families and Preventing Radicalisation to Terrorism and Violent Extremism: Approaches and Practices. For a rigorous evaluation of a CVE effort, see this Evaluation of a Multi-Faceted, U.S. Community-Based, Muslim-Led CVE Program.



Most of the categories above include a lot of work on jihadism, but there’s also work that deserves a category of its own. If I had to recommend one single piece as a primer on jihadism, it would be Cole Bunzel’s Jihadism On Its Own Terms.

Though not primarily focused on jihadism, I also recommend Joas Wagemakers’ Revisiting Wiktorowicz: Categorising and Defining the Branches of Salafism. Shiraz Maher’s Salafi-Jihadism: The History of an Idea has been highly recommended to me, though I have not read it yet. Finally, the most fascinating article I’ve read on jihadism recently has been Thorsten Botz-Bornstein’s The “Futurist” Aesthetics of ISIS.


So that’s some terrorism research which has really stood out to me over the last couple of years, though there’s plenty of important research that’s missing.

For example, it was only after writing the bulk of this post that I realised a blindspot: it includes no research on gender-related terrorism research. This is quite a shortcoming as there’s been plenty of recent writing on the role of women inside jihadist organisations and the use of masculinity in recruitment narratives. There’s also been an effort to combine Countering Violent Extremism initiatives with the United Nations’ Women, Peace and Security (WPS) campaign (launched in 2000 with UNSC Resolution 1325). In 2015 United Nations combined CVE with WPS through UNSC Resolution 2242, which has prompted a surge of new research. This is all happening at a time when Australia’s national security public sphere is slowly becoming more gender-aware: there’s been the creation of an Australian chapter of Women In International Security (WIIS), the Institute for Regional Security’s Women in National Security (WiNS) program, and the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Women in Defence and Security Network (WDSN).

You can expect a Murphy Raid guest post on CVE and the Women, Peace and Security campaign in the near future.

As we reach the end, one miscellaneous recommendation is this article: Terrorism Events Data: An Inventory of Databases and Data Sets, 1968-2017. I particularly suggest it for anyone about to begin research in this area and worrying about where to find useful data.

Feel free to suggest any more research in the comments section below.

And finally, I want to yet again recommend the Talking Terror podcast, where you can keep finding out more about promising terrorism research.

Some updates on national security news and my research for 2018

Happy new year to all Murphy Raid readers!

This post is to announce a few bits of news.

First, Australia is going to experience major changes to its national security governance during 2018, with the Turnbull government creating the Department of Home Affairs, implementing recommendations from the 2017 Independent Intelligence Review, introducing new foreign interference laws, and in all likelihood passing more counter-terrorism legislation.

I’ll post occasional news round-ups, but a good way to track these developments is to follow the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security’s inquiries. They are currently reviewing four bills yet to be introduced to Parliament:

In other news, Levi J. West and I have co-authored an article in Jamestown’s Militant Leadership Monitor on Neil Prakash, who was considered “the most important and the most dangerous” Australian member of Islamic State. We cover Prakash’s journey to the Islamic State, his role as a propagandist, his alleged involvement in terrorist plots, and his downfall. To read the article, you will need to subscribe to the Militant Leadership Monitor.

Meanwhile, I am still working on my book with Debra Smith on the history of terrorism and counter-terrorism in Australia, will resume my PhD in a few months, and am working on some small side-projects.

I will also keep posting here semi-regularly. I hope you find it interesting and useful, and thanks for reading!

Recent podcast episodes on terrorism and Australian national security

I’ve been listening to bunch of podcasts recently, and want to share some episodes I think readers of this blog might enjoy.

Anyone interested in the study of terrorism needs to give Talking Terror a shot. It’s hosted by John Morrison, Director of the Terrorism and Extremism Research Centre at the University of East London, and focused both on the phenomenon of terrorism itself and on the academic field of terrorism studies. Each guest is asked about their own research and research by others that has strongly influenced them. Most of the guests are quite critical of aspects of terrorism studies, as many scholars are, but also optimistic about where the field is heading. I find it a fascinating and refreshing podcast. My favourite episodes are:

Episode 1: Laura Dugan
“John and Laura discuss the origins and iterations of the Global Terrorism Database (GTD), her research on moving beyond deterrence in Israel, and Armenian terrorism.”

Episode 4: Bart Schuurman
“This episode covers a range of issues including the evaluation of Dutch re-integration programmes, the role of public support in terrorism and counter-terrorism, and the individual rationales for involvement in Dutch jihadist groups.”

Episode 5: Erica Chenoweth
“Erica discusses a range of topics relating to her research and her influences. Included within this is a fascinating discussion of how Zlata’s Diary had a huge influence on her career… Erica’s career has focused on analysing political violence and its alternatives, and this is reflected in her discussion with John.”

Episode 11: John Morrison
“John Morrison has left the host’s chair, replaced by Andrew Silke, and for one episode only is the guest on the show. In this interview John discusses how his early interest in sports psychology still influences him today, his research on splits in Irish Republicanism, and his current focus on the role of trust is the psychology of terrorism.”

Also, the Blogs of War podcast, Covert Contact, has been doing a great run of episodes with Australian guests, covering issues like terrorism, warfare and information security. I’ve collected them all here:

Episode 75: Understanding and Developing Resilience To Information Warfare
Interview with Clint Arizmendi, an Adjunct Senior Research Fellow for the Australian Graduate School of Policing & Security’s Terrorism Studies program at Charles Sturt University.

Episode 76: Australian Special Operations Forces
Interview with Colonel Ian Langford, DSC (Two Bar), who has served the Australian Army and Special Operations Command, with distinction.

Episode 77: Australian Approaches to Counterterrorism
Interview with the Director of Terrorism Studies at Charles Sturt University in Canberra, Levi West.

Episode 78: Australian Cyber Policy
Interview with  freelance journalist, commentator, and broadcaster Stilgherrian.

Episode 82: The Crypto Wars: Update from the Australian Front
Another interview with Australian freelance journalist, commentator, and broadcaster Stilgherrian.

Episode 85: Terrorists and Technology
Another interview with Levi West, Director of Terrorism Studies at Charles Sturt University in Canberra.


An Australian terrorism news round-up: 4 November 2017

Here is a quick round-up of Australian terrorism-related news over the past month or so:

Updates on research, writing and reading

I wanted to share some things I’ve been up to recently.

First, I am co-authoring a book on the history of terrorism and counter-terrorism in Australia since the 1960s! I am extremely excited by it. My co-author is Debra Smith (author of this great article), and it will be published by Palgrave MacMillan.

In less exciting news, I recently withdrew from the University of Melbourne. However I have not ended the PhD, I will resume it at Monash University. About halfway through last year my primary supervisor (David Malet, who does excellent work on foreign fighters) left Melbourne University for a position at George Washington University. I took a Leave of Absence after that, initially planning to resume my PhD there if I could find another supervisor in my area, but decided instead to return to Monash. I successfully applied and will continue my PhD there, beginning in early 2018.

The book will be my main focus for the next six months, before returning to the PhD. I will be working on a few other things in that time, such as my job at APO and some pieces of writing.

Also, my podcast with Kate Grealy will be returning. We went on hiatus again and will recommence once we have a bunch more episodes ready to go. We’ve recorded some new interviews recorded, one on militias in Indonesia and one on the role of space technology in the US-Australian alliance, and have several more planned.

I’ve also had some new articles out:

And I was interviewed by Fatima Measham for the Eureka Street podcast Chattersquare.

In other news, some colleagues of mine have some new pieces of research out. Pete Lentini has authored this new article (paywalled) on the Melbourne-based terrorist cell disrupted by Operation Pendennis in 2005, The Neojihadist Cell as a Religious Organization: A Melbourne Jema’ah Case Study. Michele Grossman has co-authored this study on Community Reporting Of Violent Extremist Activity And Involvement In Foreign Conflict. It’s a UK-based replication of an Australian study, which makes it particularly important as it helps terrorism studies to address the Replication Debate.

I also want to share some of what I’m reading at the moment. For the book, I’m revisiting a lot of books on Australia’s Security history:

But as we are making use of lots of untapped information, institutions like the National Archives of Australia and the Australian Legal Information Institute are invaluable, and I encourage everyone to support them.

I’m reading a bit on the Vietnam War. I just finished Thomas Richardson’s Destroy and Build: Pacification in Phuoc Thuy, 1966-1972, which I would put in the top five books ever written on Australia’s role in Vietnam. I’m currently reading a novel on the war and its aftermath, Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathiser:


I’m about to start Mark Hamm and Ramon Spaaij’s book on lone wolf terrorism. The term “lone wolf” tends to evoke a lot of sarcasm now, and while I’ve had problems with how loosely the term can be used, it’s not a meaningless concept. These types of terror attacks deserves serious study, and this book looks like a rigorous and empirically-grounded example of that:

I like to balance these sort of micro-level studies with big-picture reading on world history, or on where the world may be heading. The most interesting thing I’ve read recently like that has been Amitav Acharya’s article After Liberal Hegemony: The Advent of a Multiplex World Order, and I’ve just begun Lawrence Freedman’s The Future of War: A History:


That’s it for now, but I hope to update this blog a bit more frequently. We will see!