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A blog on terrorism, democracy and international politics

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Al-Qaeda in Australia 

This week Jamestown Foundation's Terrorism Monitor (TM) published another of my articles, titled Al-Qaeda in Australia.

In writing my previous TM article, I already had an idea that had emerged from my thesis research and subsequent research. But when TM asked me to write an article on al-Qaeda in Australia, I did not have an argument prepared. However, when I began to think about this article, I realised that there was ample material. In the end, I was only able to detail a couple of illustrative examples, rather than detailing the many al-Qaeda-connected networks that have operated here.

It should already be obvious to most Australians that al-Qaeda would like to attack Australian targets within Australia (Australian targets have already been struck repeatedly in Indonesia, and were indeed hit again in Bali not long before my article went to print). Al-Qaeda has repeatedly listed Australia as one of its high priority target countries, not only after the invasion of Iraq but over an extended period of time. Most of us can think of a few specific news stories and personalities that demonstrate Islamic radical activity within Australia. But when one stops to assemble a list of the individuals and groups that have attempted to penetrate Australia's defences and prepare for attacks here, it is surprising (and a testament to our intelligence and security organisations) that none have succeeded.

The following are some of the radical Islamic groups that have, or have had, a presence in Australia:

These groups range from actively engaging in terrorist activity to merely pushing an ideology that is calculated to alienate their followers from the wider community, including from their fellow Muslims.

Various independent cases of propaganda operations, fundraising, terrorist training camps and planning for actual terrorist attacks have taken place in Australia. As I argue in my article, the most plausible and worrying cases have involved collaboration between global, regional and Australian networks.

The Emigrants: Al-Muhajiroun

Although it was beyond the scope of the TM article, I also found that my research reinforced the impression that al-Qaeda attacks depend on international travel.

Al-Qaeda's theoretical model, which is designed as an analogy to Muhammad's defeat of the pre-Islamic pagans in Mecca, places great emphasis on migration and trade. In its analysis of the 'enemy' (the regimes in the Middle East and their alleged 'Crusader' sponsors), al-Qaeda borrows directly from Sayyid Qutb's depiction of 7th Century Arabia. Mecca at this time was a merchant town whose economy was based on trade with Christian countries in areas that are now Syria and Yemen.

In 622AD, Muhammad fled/emigrated from Mecca to Medina (then called Yathrib), where he and his followers were assisted by the Ansar (helpers). There, they were able to mount raids on trade caravans and thus weaken Mecca. By so doing, they were able to defeat their pagan enemies. In other words, by migrating away from the threat they were able to defeat it, by hitting its trade and communications infrastructure.

Several waves of Jihadi theorists have tried to turn this story into a model for modern warfare, and indeed al-Qaeda has managed to put together a model of global guerrilla warfare that can claim to be based on this precedent, but which also utilises the unprecedented characteristics of a globalised world.

This model determines the what sort of targets should be hit; trade, communication and other links within and between 'enemy' countries, particularly between Western countries and Muslim-majority States al-Qaeda seeks to supplant. Think of the targets of terrorist attacks. Attacks on the World Trade Centre, tourists in Bali, an oil tanker in Yemen, oil wells in Iraq and expatriate workers in Saudi Arabia all involve cutting the financial lifeline between the West and Muslim countries. Attacks on domestic air and train transport and the power grids of both Iraq and Australia* relate indirectly to this emphasis on cutting communications and transportation of resources. Almost all al-Qaeda-connected terrorist attacks meet this criterion.

The al-Qaeda model also dictates a system of preparation for terrorist operatives: they must migrate to an area free from 'infidels' in order to prepare themselves. Whether travelling to Afghanistan to train in al-Qaeda or Laskar-e-Taiba training camps, to the southern Philippines, or to war zones such as Iraq and Bosnia, this travel is considered vital for the would-be terrorist. Even so-called clean-skin terrorists - those without known connections to terrorist organisations - such as the July 7 London bombers and British-born Australian Jack Roche, travelled to South Asia. It would seem fairly obvious that if one was planning a terrorist attack, a Pakistani customs stamp in one's passport would be something to avoid. Yet without exception, all those al-Qaeda operatives who have seriously plotted to attack Western countries on their own soil have engaged in this 'migration' to foreign training and indoctrination camps.

For this reason, the counter-terrorist effort should pay particular attention to international trade and travel, and should continue with efforts to enhance international cooperation and technological advances in the area of customs. And as I argue in my TM article, Australia's counterterrorist efforts can not afford to neglect the terrorist threat within Australia, in the region, or in the wider global arena.

* There is a case currently before the courts in which individuals connected to Laskar-e-Taiba allegedly prepared to attack the power grid.

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