Australia is struggling to prevent its Moslem citizens from joining extremist groups like ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) or plotting domestic attacks in the name of ISIL. The government is proposing new laws to criminalize virtually all travel to regions designated as terror hotspots. It is hoped that the harsh penalties, including a sentence of 10 years in prison will deter additional Australian Moslems from leaving for Syria and Iraq. The government believes at least 20 of the over 100 Australians that joined ISIL or other radical Islamist groups in the Middle East have already returned home and these lone wolves pose a growing danger to domestic security.
Like many other Western countries, Australia is discovering the disaffected children of refugees are most susceptible to being radicalized and drawn to ISIL’s efforts to make Islamic terrorism appear glamorous. While Australia’s conservative government has imposed tough immigration policies highly unpopular with asylum seekers, the previous leftist government was less strict, granting more than 4,000 visas to Iraqis and over 2,400 visas to Afghanis in 2012-2013. Meanwhile, 287,000 Australians (1.2 percent of the population) speak Arabic at home.
There have been a growing number of Islamic terrorist incidents. On September 23rd police shot and killed an 18-year-old Moslem of Afghan origin after he repeatedly stabbed two officers outside a police station in Melbourne. The young man was a “known terror suspect” who had already his passport canceled because of his extremist sympathies. Police had asked him to report for an interview after he was seen waving an ISIL flag at a shopping mall several days earlier. The day before that ISIL called upon the group’s supporters to kill Americans, Australians, Canadians, and Europeans by any means necessary.
On September 18th over 800 police conducted a massive counterterrorism operation in Sydney and two other cities. The raids led to the arrest of 15 people with ties to ISIL that had planned to kidnap and publically behead an Australian citizen at random. Australia’s national security agency raised its threat level to “high” for the first time ever this month. Australians have assumed a greater profile in the fighting in Iraq and Syria as well as in ISIL’s social media recruiting efforts since July. --Alec Weisman