Guest post: the incarceration of radicalised prisoners in New South Wales

In this guest post, Katrina Zorzi discusses changes to the management of radicalised prisoners in New South Wales and what this might imply for Victoria and other states.

In the past year, the New South Wales government has ushered in a raft of changes to the management of radicalised prisoners. This post provides a short outline of these changes and offers some thoughts on an inspection by the NSW Inspector of Custodial Services, some recent changes that have been either implemented or proposed, and some of the national security and human rights dilemmas raised by this issue.

Goulburn Supermax

The rise and fall of the Islamic State’s ‘Caliphate’ and the apprehension of Australian-based IS supporters has increased the need for a workable, sustainable policy on incarcerating terrorists. In NSW, discussions around the incarceration of radicalised prisoners frequently centre on Goulburn’s ‘High Risk Management Correctional Centre’ Supermax facility.

There are reportedly 40-50 prisoners housed within the Goulburn Supermax. Not all are radicalised or terrorist inmates who are thought to be risks to national security (Ivan Milat, for one, is reportedly an inmate at the Supermax) though more than half are there on terror-related charges. In 2016 NSW Corrective Services Commissioner Peter Severin told The 7:30 Report that: “Supermax was built for extremely violent offenders… It wasn’t built and designed for people who pose a threat to national security.” The decision to house a broader array of radical inmates there reportedly dates from August 2015, when radical preacher Junaid Thorne – who was jailed for booking airline tickets under a false name – was transferred there. Individuals arrested in 2005’s Operation Pendennis, for example, which disrupted two terror cells in Sydney and Melbourne, were already housed in the Supermax.

Goulburn Supermax has gained a lot of media attention in the past few years, generally focused on the convicted and accused terrorists housed there. In 2016, anonymous senior counter-terrorism officials told The 7:30 Report of their concerns that youth terrorism suspects held within Goulburn’s Supermax facility were being further radicalised by extremist adult inmates. In April 2017 The Weekend Australian featured an article by Paul Maley, who had been given access to Goulburn Supermax, which featured insights from the Supermax’s intelligence unit and detailed the day-to-day living conditions of the radicalised prisoners. Last month it was reported that a prisoner within the facility had attacked and injured two guards.

One aspect that has not been reported on for some time is the inspection announced in 2016 by the NSW Inspector of Custodial Services.

The not-yet-public inspection

The NSW Inspector of Custodial Services (ICS) is a statutory agency tasked with “providing independent scrutiny of the conditions, treatment and outcomes for adults and young people in custody, and to promote excellence in staff professional practice”. The ICS has jurisdiction over all correctional facilities in NSW and an inspection can be initiated by either the Inspector, the Minister for Corrections, a Parliamentary Joint Committee or a public authority or official.

In April 2016, the ICS was tasked to undertake an inspection on the “Management of radicalised prisoners in the NSW correctional centres”. The centres identified to be examined in the inspection were: the Metropolitan Remand and Reception Centre, the Mid North Coast correctional Centre, the Lithgow Correctional Centre, the Goulburn Correctional Centre and its High Risk Management Correctional Centre.

However, it is not clear what has come of this inspection. In October 2016, the ABC reported that the review was expected to be handed down to the State Government in November. And, presumably, for it to be made public sometime after this. However, as of early March 2018, the report is still not publicly available on the ICS’s website. The ICS still lists the inspection into the management of radicalised prisoners as a ‘current inspection’.

Yet the ICS’s 2016-2017 annual report mentions the inspection in past tense, articulating that:

Pursuant to a request by the Minister for Corrections and in accordance with section 6(1)(f) of the Inspector of Custodial Services Act 2012, a review of the management of radicalised inmates in NSW prisons was commenced on 22 April 2016… The inspection examined approaches and practices relating to the risk assessment, classification, designation, placement, and management of inmates, conditions within centres, and offender programs and services. Over 200 CSNSW staff were consulted, as well as executive and specialist staff.

If it is not reading too much into the use of past tense it would suggest that the inspection has long been completed.

The 2016-2017 annual report also asserts that: “The ICS publishes all reports and responses to reports on its website”. That the inspection report is not publicly available might be for a few reasons. It might simply have not been posted on the ICS website as an oversight. It is also possible that publishing has been withheld on national security grounds, provisions for which are built into the Inspector of Custodial Services Act 2012. The lack of even a public statement on the inspection or a redacted version is disappointing, given the potential for ICS reporting to bring transparency to the way in which NSW deals with radicalised prisoners.

The remit of the ICS’s inspection into radicalised prisoners in NSW would suggest that they are housed in a number of prisons across the state, not just in Goulburn’s Supermax facility – despite the fact that most media reporting tends to focus on that prison. This relatively high level of media reporting might be due to the notoriety increasingly attached to that facility or a prison management decision to sporadically permit or encourage such reporting. Maley’s article thus offers a rather unique insight into the prison. In this way, Goulburn Supermax has perhaps been more subject to media scrutiny than other prisons situated within NSW corrections housing terrorist or radicalised inmates.

There have also been several changes announced in the NSW government’s approach, though it is impossible to know if they are a result of the ICS’s inspection.

Recent change: extended detention

In October 2017, ahead of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting on counter-terrorism in Canberra, the NSW government announced its intention to usher in measures that would allow the ‘indefinite detention’ of radicalised prisoners. In November the Terrorism (High Risk Offenders) Bill 2017 was passed in NSW state parliament, which complements laws introduced at the Federal level in 2016. Under the changes, an inmate in a NSW prison could be designated as a radicalised national security threat and be jailed for up to an additional three years. Radicalised inmates would undergo a rehabilitation assessment and a medical assessment presumably to determine whether they were still ‘radicalised’ and posing a threat to the community. The process to initiate this would be done at the behest of the state’s attorney general to the Supreme Court. There is the potential for these extensions to continue in perpetuity.

At the time, NSW Counter Terrorism and Corrections Minister David Elliott explained that evidence would be gathered from a range of agencies to determine whether a prisoner was radicalised and thus representing an unacceptable risk to the community. Such evidence “would include radical behaviour, letters, interactions, treatment of staff within the corrections establishment, treatment of other inmates”. Elliott went on to assert: “It is unfortunate that we have to introduce what are potentially the toughest anti-terrorism laws in the world – but what would be more unfortunate is if somebody who was radicalised in a prison and was then released and did harm.”

Why up to three years? It is not clear what the logic is behind this. Presumably it would be much more difficult for the NSW government to muster support for longer extensions to prison sentences given the human rights issues potentially at play. Whether there are current or viable future ‘deradicalisation’ or disengagement programs being run in the NSW prison system that authorities believe can work in three years or less is another potential consideration.

Another issue is that the concept of radicalisation – and thus the nature of what it means to be ‘radicalised’ too – is contentious. What the threshold for determining whether an individual is ‘radicalised’ and so constitutes an ongoing threat to national security is unclear. Whether there is room in this approach for an inmate to maintain a radical political ideology but disavow violence is also unclear. No doubt any declaration of the sort would be greeted by authorities with a healthy dose of scepticism.

Proposed change: new facility

The scale of this is set to increase, following the announcement last year that the NSW government was spending $47 million to build a new ‘mini-max’ facility within Goulburn’s Supermax for radicalised inmates. A logical inference would be that this is intended to address the problems raised by Severin (that Goulburn Supermax was built for violent offenders, not offenders who pose a risk to national security).

This is supported by Maley’s reporting in April 2017, which highlighted that Corrective Services NSW was looking at a ‘differentiated’ approach of separating radicalised inmates (presumably from the broader prison population) and also anticipated that the ICS report on the management of radicalised prisoners would make recommendations in favour of this too.

That $47 million will now be spent on a specialised facility within the Goulburn Supermax would suggest that, at least in part, the practice of centralisation and separation for radicalised inmates is being given a boost.

Proposed change: juvenile justice strategy

The changes continue, as in February this year the NSW government announced that it intended to create a ‘countering violent extremism’ unit within the juvenile justice system to designate and monitor youth inmates who constituted national security threats. It would also work to identify inmates ‘at-risk’ of radicalisation and involve them in ‘deradicalisation’ programs. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian highlighted that “this new strategy complements other initiatives such as our post-sentence detention scheme and stronger parole provisions”.

Further thoughts

The NSW government’s approach is not the only way to address this issue. There are some good media articles which articulate the different approaches taken by New South Wales and Victoria to managing offenders convicted of terrorism or terrorism-related offences. ANU’s Dr Clarke Jones and others have commented publicly and written at length on this topic. However, Severin expected that changes in Victoria might bring it closer to the NSW model. And recent reports also quote Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews as being supportive of having a federal prison facility solely for terrorist prisoners – in direct contrast to Victoria’s existing arrangements.

From a national security perspective, it is understandable that authorities are unwilling to risk releasing any individual they suspect still harbours violent extremist goals.

I am not convinced that complete transparency, for its own sake, is necessarily in the community’s best interest when it comes to national security. However, greater overtures could be made to transparency regarding the processes internal to the NSW government that have initiated these wide-ranging changes to policy and now practice. This is where the benefit of having strong mechanisms of oversight and public trust in institutions often kicks in. At the same time, of course, few people are going to be willing to go into bat for the rights and liberties of terrorists and the NSW government is probably quite confident of the public’s acceptance of such measures.

From a human rights perspective, things might look a bit different. Especially considering that some of these changes concern the incarceration of minors. We might expect that a new, purpose built facility for radicalised inmates will create qualitatively different conditions of life for inmates – for better or for worse. This aspect is much better commented on by someone with an advocacy, human rights or legal background.

But it is a good time to pause and take stock of the ways in which NSW deals with its incarcerated, radicalised population. We might also consider whether, for Victoria and other states, this represents the way of the future or a cautionary tale.

Katrina Zorzi is a sessional academic at Monash University, Charles Sturt University and Deakin University.

Security research round-up for International Women’s Day

To help celebrate International Women’s Day, this post presents a collection of security-related research by Australian women.

It covers research released in the past year or so. The list is not comprehensive, it’s a small selection of research by people whose work I happen to be familiar with, and deserves to be much larger.

Kate Barrelle
Does the Pursuit of Meaning Explain the Initiation, Escalation, and Disengagement of Violent Extremists? Aggression and Violent Behavior, Volume 34, May 2017 (co-authored with Rosleenda Ali, Simon Moss and Pete Lentini)

Helen Berents
Gender and Age in the Construction of Male Youth in the European Migration “Crisis”, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Volume 43, Number 3, 2018 (co-authored with Lesley Pruitt and Gayle Munro)

Leah Farrall
Revisiting al-Qaida’s Foundation and Early History, Perspectives on Terrorism, Volume 11, Issue 6, 2017

Michele Grossman
Community Reporting Thresholds: Sharing Information with Authorities Concerning Violent Extremist Activity and Involvement in Foreign Conflict – A UK Replication Study, CREST Research, 18 September 2017 (co-authored with Paul Thomas, Shamim Miah and Kris Christmann)

Amy King
A New Normal? The Changing Future of Nuclear Energy in China, Learning from Fukushima: Nuclear Power in East Asia, ANU Press, 2017

Sarah Logan
The Needle and the Damage Done: Of Haystacks and Anxious Panopticons, Big Data & Society, published online 27 October 2017

Sofia Patel
The Sultanate of Women: Exploring Female Roles in Perpetrating and Preventing Violent Extremism, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 13 February 2017

Alex Phelan
Engaging Insurgency: The Impact of the 2016 Colombian Peace Agreement on FARC’s Political Participation, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, published online 20 Feb 2018

Natalie Sambhi
Indonesia’s Naval and Coast Guard Upgrades and Jokowi’s Global Maritime Fulcrum, Centre for Strategic and International Studies, January 2017 (scroll to page 83)

Nina Silove
Beyond the Buzzword: The Three Meanings of “Grand Strategy”, Security Studies, Volume 27, Issue 1, 2017

Aim Sinpeng
Participatory Inequality in Online and Offline Political Engagement in Thailand, Pacific Affairs, Volume 90, Issue 2, 2017

Debra Smith
So How Do You Feel about That? Talking with Provos about Emotion, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, published online 1 June 2017

Similarly, here is a far-from-comprehensive list of Australian women who tweet on security and many other issues who I recommend following:

Jessie Blackbourn: @JessBlackbourn

Leah Farrall: @allthingsct

Kate Grealy: @kategrealy

Sarah Logan: @circt

Clare Murphy: @ClareAliceMurph

Leanne O’Donnell: @MsLods

Sofia Patel: @laramimi

Alex Phelan: @Alex_Phelan

Natalie Sambhi: @SecurityScholar

Katrina Zorzi: @kmzrz

As mentioned, the list deserves to be much larger, so feel free to suggest more in the comments. It’s also important to remember that women are generally disadvantaged in academia, so many promising scholars don’t get the opportunities they deserve.

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.