Last week's foiled plot "Down Under" reminds us that no country is beyond terrorism's reach
In May last year, off-duty Fusilier Drummer Lee Rigby was hacked to death in Wellington Street, London, by two radicalized UK citizens who were converts to Sunni Islam. The perpetrators asked passers-by to take videos of them, and then waited for the police to arrest them. The crime shocked the world. I was in London, only a few streets away from Wellington Street that Wednesday, May 22 last year.
Australians were doubly shocked at the brutal murder because of this country’s special links with the UK. But most probably assumed that our laid-back, friendly, easygoing, sports-loving, largely uninhabited island paradise – next stop Antarctica – would be spared such horrors.
Last Thursday – September 18, 2014 – Australia came of age. We learned that fifteen people had been detained after a phone call from an Australian Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) jihadist to contacts in Australia was intercepted. This led to a series of early-morning anti-terrorism raids across Sydney by 800 Australian Federal Police and NSW police officers. Similar raids by 70 Queensland police took place in Brisbane.
Muhammad Baryalei, 33, who made the call, is reportedly fighting with Islamic State in Syria and is suspected of having recruited many of the Australians who are fighting in Syria and Iraq. According to an ABC report, he called contacts in Australia and asked them to carry out a number of public beheadings. They were to kidnap people randomly in Brisbane and Sydney and have them executed on camera. The film was to be sent back to Islamic State to be used as propaganda.
Omarjan Azari, 22, one of about 15 people detained during the large counter-terrorism operation, has been charged with conspiracy to plan a terrorist act or acts. A warrant has been issued for the arrest of Baryalei.
According to media reports earlier this year, Australian security organisations were concerned that the more than 200 Australians suspected of being involved in combat related activities in Syria might attempt to carry out similar acts of terrorism in Australia on their return home.
Jabhat an-Nusra is one of the rebel Islamist groups fighting against the Syrian forces of Bashar al-Assad that was identified as training foreign jihadists to conduct acts of terrorism in the jihadists’ home countries. As a consequence of this development, numbers of young Australian Sunni Muslims en route to Syria have had their passports confiscated.
In the light of the butchery and genocide of Islamic State jihadists, the Abbott Liberal Government reluctantly announced tough new anti-terrorism laws to deal with the perceived threat. Efforts to enlist the support of the various Sunni Muslim community leaders, however, met with a cool—not to say hostile—reception.
A statement by more than 60 Sunni organisations and individuals dated August 20, 2014 alleged that “the threat [of] about 150 radicalised Muslims returning from Iraq and Syria” had been “trumped up.” This statement, it should be noted, was issued on the same day that the non-Muslim world learned of the barbaric beheading of journalist James Foley. Referring to anti-terrorism laws, the community leaders insisted, ‘There is no solid evidence to substantiate this threat.”
The Saudis whose Wahhabi ideology begat Islamic State, and who regard themselves as a model of Sunni Islam, see things differently. In February, King Abdullah decreed jail terms for up to 20 years for citizens who take part in overseas conflicts.
Three days before the early-morning raids in Sydney and Brisbane, a Saudi Court jailed 13 defendants for up to 10 years on charges that included joining an Islamist group, fighting overseas, supporting fighters financially, and helping mislead people travelling to conflict zones.