GTReC ARC Linkage Project on Radicalisation Conference 2012 – Terrorism and Counter-terrorism in Australia and Indonesia: 10 years after Bali

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Date(s) - 26/09/2012 - 28/09/2012
All Day

Monash Law Chambers, Melbourne Victoria

Category(ies) No Categories

Conference Summary

Coinciding with the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks in Bali, the 2012 GTReC conference examined the significant progress made in understanding and countering violent extremism. A number of Indonesian presenters joined international and local speakers to discuss developments in terrorism and counter-terrorism over the past decade and beyond.

Reflecting the ARC Linkage Project’s emphasis on linking research and practice, this conference attracted a diverse audience including academics, security practitioners, policy makers, journalists, community leaders and students. This partnership between academics and senior practitioners led to an open and frank exchange of ideas and information. Speakers presented innovative research findings, often based on first-hand fieldwork, such as interviews with extremists, terrorists and members of affected communities worldwide.

A key theme that emerged was the breadth, diversity and resilience of the current threat, despite the setbacks faced by the global jihadist movement in the past ten years. A small but potent subculture of militant global jihad has become entrenched in Indonesia, and several speakers addressed its evolution, complexity and the legal and institutional difficulties the country faces in countering it. Other speakers discussed jihadism in Thailand and the Philippines. Further abroad, movements such as Somalia’s al-Shabab have attracted Western youth, both from the Somali diaspora and beyond, and new jihadist groups have emerged in other parts of Africa, some adopting al-Qaeda’s agenda.

Another key theme was the future of terrorism and counter-terrorism. The terrorist threat to Western countries is evolving, and will be inspired by a variety of ideologies, not just jihadism. The rise in extreme-right terrorism was discussed, and lone-wolf terrorism is another growing concern, with recent attacks by Anders Breivik and Wade Michael Page demonstrating their lethality. Counter-terrorism is also changing as we enter a period of budgetary constraint, with the result that we may be witnessing a reduced appetite for counter-terrorism measures. ‘Countering violent extremism’ (CVE), using non-coercive measures to prevent people becoming involved in terrorism or helping them to disengage, is emerging as a favoured approach across the globe. How it will ultimately mitigate the terrorist threat, however, remains essentially an open question, but several promising domestic and international initiatives were discussed.

For example, Noor Huda Ismail spoke about his innovative NGO, the Indonesia-based Institute for International Peace Building, which works on the idea of disengagement through food. Huda created employment for former terrorists in his social enterprise restaurant, which not only helped them gain alternative skills, but develop new social networks and relationships that led them to abandon their intolerant worldviews. Similarly, Max Boon, who was seriously injured in the 2009 Marriott Jakarta attacks, spoke of the NGO he founded, the Victims’ Voices Project. He stated that the experiences of terrorists’ victims are often lost in Indonesian media, which instead focuses on the drama of the event and the background of the perpetrators. His project aims to actively involve victims’ voices in efforts to counter violent extremism.

Online extremist activity was also a key theme. One issue was the increasing use of social media by terrorists. It was observed that when the terrorist cells foiled in Operation Pendennis had been active in 2005, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, iPhones and Google Maps were yet to be invented. With each year there is greater proliferation of tools that are overwhelmingly used for legitimate purposes but can also be used by terrorists and other malevolent actors. Another issue raised is that online propaganda is often reactive, with several speakers demonstrating that ideologically opposed radical groups often interacted with each other online, using the existence of hostile groups as a way to rally supporters.

A final theme that emerged was the continuing need to utilise a wide range of information sources and methodologies in terrorism research. The speakers had used various approaches to study terrorism, including:

  • Conducting interviews in conflict zones.
  • Conducting interviews in post-conflict situations.
  • Conducting interviews in prisons or with people released from prison.
  • Using police listening device and telephone intercept transcripts.
  • Using police files and court transcripts.
  • Studying online terrorist material and communications.
  • Fieldwork in communities affected both by terrorism and by counter-terrorism.

It was observed that each methodological approach had strengths and weaknesses, and that some approaches brought with them ethical challenges and difficulties. The presentations and discussions demonstrated the requirement for diverse approaches and the need to continuously scrutinise the utility and appropriateness of the various methods. Addressing the terrorist threat, and ensuring counter-terrorist actions do not themselves cause harm, requires a solid understanding of the phenomenon. Continued effort and innovation by scholars can help contribute to this.

This conference was characterised by lively discourse between academics, practitioners, policy makers and community stakeholders. Selected papers will be published in edited books in 2013. The final conference arising from the ARC Linkage Project on Radicalisation will be held in the latter half of 2013.

Conference Program

To view the conference program, click here (PDF, 286kb).

Presenter Biographies

To view the presenter biographies, click here (PDF, 178kb).

Keynotes from the Conference

Bill Paterson PSM, Australian Ambassador for Counter-Terrorism
Conference Keynote, 28 September 2012
ARC Linkage Project on Radicalisation – Conference 2012
Terrorism and Counter-terrorism in Australia and Indonesia: 10 years after Bali

Transnational Terrorism ten years on: defeated, diffused or re-energised? What lies ahead?

Speaking toward the end of a conference of experts on terrorism is a particularly difficult challenge. In a field crowded with well-informed analysis, what can I say that will add to the body of knowledge or enlighten?

But as the t-shirt says: тАЬI’m from the government and I’m here to help youтАЭ, so I thought I’d offer a Canberra perspective on the current shape and scale of the threat as we see it to help frame further discussions.

Recent debate on the future of Al Qaeda and associated jihadist groups has focussed on whether we continue to face a resource intensive struggle against a resilient and threatening transnational jihadist movement or, essentially whether, post-bin Laden, much of the job has been done and it’s time to move on.

It’s argued that there are bigger strategic challenges looming, budgets are tight, the problem is residual and containable, the jihadis have been degraded and no longer present a significant threat of mass casualty attacks, their agendas are increasingly local rather than global, and that risks are overstated by self-serving security communities seeking to preserve their personnel and budgets.

But the outlook is considerably less reassuring. Indeed, the so-called Arab Spring, so widely welcomed eighteen months ago, has stimulated and empowered a range of new actors, and given new causes and new life to extremist groups.

The uprisings in the Arab world have added uncertainties about the shape of future governments in the Middle East, the participation of Islamists in new governments, their level of commitment to counter-terrorism, and the space which may be available to, or the tolerance toward, extremist groups.

Prolonged instability has allowed some extremist groups, initially in Libya and Yemen, to recruit, to expand their areas of safe haven, to capture weapons and sell them on to others.

And as the period of uncertainty and instability lengthens, further opportunities for extremists are developing. Events in the Middle East resonate throughout the ummah.

As we’ve seen on display in recent days, the Muslim world’s sensitivity to perceived slights against Islam, its uneasy relationship with the western world and western values, provide opportunities for exploitation by opportunistic extremists.

And the elimination of Usama bin Laden in May 2011 has not drawn a line under the terrorism decade.

Indicators that we face an enduring challenge are pretty much a daily occurrence. They include continuing mass casualty incidents, the seizure by jihadists of territory to develop new safe havens, exposure by intelligence and law enforcement agencies of plots and conspiracies, evidence of fundraising, recruitment and radicalisation over a widening geographic area, the appearance of additional extremist groups, as well as deepening strategic uncertainties and instability in the Middle East, north and west Africa.

Together, these point to a resilient terrorist threat тАУ transnational in its linkages and geography, if no longer fully in its aspirations – that will continue to present substantial security policy challenges, regionally and internationally over an extended period.

Some of the energy driving current violent extremism is clearly of a sectarian character, manifested in sharpening cleavages within Islam between Sunni and Shia, and Sunni and Shia-derivatives such as Ahmadis and Alawites.

But we can take little comfort from a sectarian war within Islam: it will inevitably manifest itself in Islamic communities elsewhere, including our own, and it will entrench cultures of violence and a new generation of trained and experienced fighters, some imbued with jihadist ideology and transnational aspirations.

The mujaheddin struggle against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s gave birth to Al Qaeda and its associated groups, including in Southeast Asia, and the current turmoil in the Middle East seems set to rebuild pools of radicalised fighters who may destabilise parts of the Middle East.

I will attempt to describe that evolution in what follows.

The terrorist threat is changing in its shape and its geographic spread, its security consciousness, modes of operation, adaptation, innovation and participation.

These capabilities and characteristics are presenting significant new challenges in identifying and locating terrorist groups and individuals.

Modern terrorism has been empowered by cheap and accessible technology, ready access to information and finance, and mobility arising from globalisation тАУ all factors advantaging the non-state actor.

But first – the challenge for Australia.

For Australia, AQ-led, associated or inspired transnational terrorism is likely to remain an enduring and evolving security threat. 111 Australian civilians have lost their lives in nine major international terrorist attacks from 9/11 on. Many more have suffered injury and loss. The first Bali bombing in October 2002, in which 88 Australians lost their lives, had a massive national impact. In addition, the Australian Embassy in Jakarta was badly damaged by a terrorist attack in 2004. These shocks were compounded by their proximity to Australia, in newly democratic and largely tolerant and moderate Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country. Separately, Australia has been regularly listed as a legitimate target by Usama bin Laden and by Al Qaeda’s current leader and principal ideologue, Ayman al Zawahiri, by JI’s Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, and in AQAP’s on-line Inspire magazine. Australia has served as part of western-led coalitions in Afghanistan and Iraq and is a strong friend of Israel, arguably putting us at the heart of jihadist demonology. Attack planning, fundraising and radicalisation have all occurred in Australia. In addition, a small but disturbing number of Australians have fought and trained with extremist organisations overseas тАУ some continue to do so. While 39 mainly Australian-born nationals have so far been prosecuted, and 22 convicted, for inciting terrorism or planning at least four major attacks within Australia itself over the decade.

So transnational terrorism is and is likely to remain for some time a major security issue for Australia, domestically as well as internationally. Massive numbers of Australians travel annually to areas considered to be of significant terrorist threat, such as Bali and Thailand. Australian resource companies, in particular, are increasingly deployed across prospective but remote and unstable areas of north and west Africa, an area of growing terrorist activity.

So how do we see the current terrorist landscape?

Terrorism Now: diffuse, dispersed and adaptable.

Al Qaeda’s core leadership тАУ the inspirational vanguard and organisational heart of the movement тАУ has been decimated by a decade of relentless targeting of its key operatives. Few key figures remain, and recruitment of experienced and trusted successors has suffered.

Since the dramatic and debilitating elimination of Usama bin Laden on 2 May last year, key AQ operational commanders have progressively been eliminated in a highly effective campaign of drone strikes in the FATA of Pakistan. Little of this core remains.

Anwar al Aulaqi and Samir Khan, two key operatives of AQ in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), were killed in a drone strike in Yemen last October тАУ important because these two were US nationals, adept at radicalising westerners in English, particularly over the internet. And AQAP is perhaps the most agile and creative of AQ affiliates, representing a continuing threat to global aviation.

So AQ’s ability plan and implement further mass casualty attacks тАУ its cohesion and capability – have markedly diminished. It has not conducted a successful operation in the West since the 2005 bombings in London.

Its safe haven in Pakistan’s border areas is under heavy US pressure and its internal cohesion at risk. It is preoccupied with survival, its ability to train, travel and communicate is limited, its fundraising and recruitment has been squeezed, its new leader lacks charisma or deep loyalty, and the exploitation of material seized in Abbotabad has increased its vulnerability. It is endorsing simpler tactics and smaller attacks, and delegating authority to affiliates and individual jihadists.

But it would be premature to dismiss it. Al Qaeda’s leadership has been resilient, committed and durable and could regenerate should conditions permit it to do so. It continues to pose a threat.

And its narrative and its iconic status have – and will тАУ continue to give inspiration, broad strategic guidance, focus and allegiance to a loose, geographically diverse and largely independent range of jihadist movements, insurgencies, cells and individuals. New recruits continue to join. Indeed, the scale and spread of the jihadist challenge has arguably grown over the decade despite our significant counter-terrorism successes.

The decentralisation and diffusion of AQ-linked or inspired extremists, together with their greater security awareness and ability skilfully to utilise readily available technologies and to probe points of vulnerability in our societies, means that we in fact face a more difficult CT landscape тАУ harder to detect, and harder to pre-empt.

We have seen as part of this shifting landscape the development of a new generation of тАШself- radicalised’ extremists, dispersed, often unaffiliated and large invisible to intelligence or law enforcement agencies, often energised and empowered over the internet.

Attacks mounted by them can be small-scale, opportunistic, with little preparation, training or lead-times. Failed attacks may be considered successful due to their disruptive effects, demonstration of vulnerability and generation of fear and uncertainty.

So the spectrum of possible modes and scale of attack has widened тАУ from extensively planned mass casualty attacks (harder now to undertake as more likely to be detected) to тАШmicro-terrorism’ – simple local actions on the part of very small cells or individuals acting alone.

The threat can often be linked to failing or deeply troubled states, to poverty, marginalisation and social dislocation, to separatist insurgencies and increasingly to local agendas and sometimes even to state actors (such as Iranian support for Lebanese Hizballah). But the new paradigm for the West is that it can also arise internally in developed and democratic societies.

Weakened core, strengthened affiliates: the centre of gravity shifts from Af-Pak to AQ’s offspring in Middle East and North Africa

Al Qaeda’s four formal affiliates, which now carry much of the banner for the organisation and operate with a large degree of independence, have enjoyed fluctuating fortunes

AQAP, a union of Yemeni and Saudi extremists which, capitalising on Yemen’s political instability, has demonstrated the capability to take territory, to target both the Yemeni and Saudi governments and the west and to seek to develop innovative methods of attack. The new Hadi government has recaptured much of the territory taken last year, and some key operatives have been taken out in drone strikes, but its threat inside and outside Yemen, and its attraction to foreign supporters, remains potent.

Q in Iraq (AQI), now sometimes called the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI) though having been greatly reduced by US pressure and tactics and Iraqi exhaustion with its excessive violence, can still deliver carnage on a grand scale, largely in support of Sunni sectarian interests in Shia majority Iraq; US withdrawal and continued instability in Iraq may be giving it renewed impetus, while elements have now moved into Syria.

AQ in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) which operates loosely across remote areas of southern Algeria, the Sahel, Mali, Niger and Mauritania, largely extorting funding through kidnapping for ransom (KFR): but it may be moving deeper into local communities and has obtained weapons from the unrest in Libya; it appears also be working with the Nigerian jihadist group, Boko Haram, which has recently mounted a series of high profile attacks in Nigeria, and is assisting extremist Muslims, fighting under the banner of Ansar al Sharia, who have taken control of northern Mali.

Al Shabaab in Somalia concluded a merger with AQ earlier this year, but it is currently fracturing under military pressure from the African Union force, AMISOM, in an encouraging effort to underpin a return to stable and constitutional government in Somalia. Foreign fighters in al Shabaab represent a threat to the west, and may now seek to return.

With the AQ core diminished and its focal leader gone, the leaders of the affiliates could increasingly become the force behind the global jihadist agenda тАУ but their followers mostly have тАУ for now – more parochial and local concerns, rather than global objectives.

But our worries don’t end there: a quick tour of jihad’s geography

Beyond the affiliates and associates, there are a wide and geographically-dispersed set of militant groups and cells which share much of Al Qaeda’s ideology and objectives, but which operate without much, if any, direction from or linkages to AQ.

The range of militant and extremist groups in Pakistan, in particular, some of which have enjoyed official backing as assets in Pakistan’s geopolitical manoeuvring vis a vis India and Afghanistan, represent a potential threat to stability in Pakistan itself. Some are no longer fully under Pakistani control and have developed global jihadist ambitions and capabilities (such as Lashkar e Tayyiba), while some (such as the Pakistani Taliban) target the Pakistani state itself. Support for extremist groups in sections of the Pakistani public is of worrying proportions.

The drawdown of ISAF in Afghanistan presents a related uncertainty: will it enable the re-building of a terrorist safe haven in Afghanistan? While specific US and perhaps other CT capabilities will be retained, there are clearly risks to the west’s core objective: to ensure that Afghanistan does not again become a safe haven and launch pad for transnational terrorist groups.

Of concern, too is a broad spectrum of active militant and extremist elements in Lebanon and the radical Palestinian movement. Jihadist groups operate widely in northern Lebanon, in particular, and Gaza, and with the collapse of Egyptian security control of the Sinai, Bedouin-based salafi jihadist groups there, and benefitting from arms smuggled from Libya, presenting a potent threat to Israel and Jordan, and risking wider violence.

And Northern Lebanese jihadists are increasingly active in Syria, where they are likely to be working with elements of AQ in Iraq, under the banner of Jabhat al Nusra. We cannot exclude the possibility that some Australian-Lebanese dual nationals or other Australians may be among these.

This year has witnessed violent attacks, or planning for them, by groups associated with Lebanese and Iranian Hizballah, apparently state-directed from Iran. The July attack on a bus of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria followed attacks earlier this year in New Delhi and Georgia, and attempts or planning in Thailand, Azerbaijan and Cyprus тАУ revealing of a global intent and capability тАУ and threatening major tourist destinations where Australians are prevalent.

And, as I’ve outlined above, there are the radicalised individuals, тАШhomegrown’ (who may develop some links to established cells or groups) or тАШloners’, operating by themselves and simply inspired or motivated by the AQ or other narratives тАУ often via the internet.

The Breivik case in Norway, armed assaults in the US and other evidence of right wing extremism underline that this is not simply a jihadist problem. Unburdened by organisational constraints and planning imperatives, the unpredictability and isolation of sole actors presents intelligence and law enforcement challenges as well as undermining confidence in social cohesion in affected western countries.

Indonesia and Southeast Asia

To complete this geographic tour d’horizon, I would like briefly to turn to our near neighbourhood, Southeast Asia, which has perhaps demonstrated the greatest success in responding to the jihadist terrorist threat over the last decade.

Indonesia has faced down a persistent violent extremist challenge from Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and related organisations and splinter groups, which have mounted a series of high-profile mass casualty attacks and numerous smaller attacks within Indonesia.

Since the first Bali bombing in October 2002, which claimed 202 lives (including 88 Australians), the Indonesian National Police have pursued with determination JI, its associated groups and key individuals, dismembering what was a highly structured organisation with a core cadre of Afghan -trained veterans with international links to Al Qaeda and others.

JI has been fractured and greatly diminished, but the exposure of a major terrorist training camp in Aceh two years ago, the killing by police of members of a cell preparing attack plans in Bali in March this year and the arrests this week alone of ten alleged terrorists in central Java and west Kalimantan point to an enduring extremist challenge.

A pattern of attacks by smaller splinter groups or cells, shorter planning cycles, with a mix of old cadre and a newer generation involved, and focussed on principally targeting Indonesian police and government officials corresponds to patterns elsewhere in the world in response to improved intelligence and law enforcement.

Since 2002, Indonesia has arrested over 700 people on terrorism-related offences, and secured around 475 convictions. This public process has built understanding within Indonesia of the nature and scale of the threat it faced. Indonesia has with its partners built a sophisticated police CT capability and judicial process but as recent events have shown, there are still weaknesses in Indonesia’s social and legislative framework which can permit extremism to fester

Instances of religious intolerance and vigilantism, jihadist publishing and proselytising are areas where government pushback has not always been robust and convicted terrorists exploit Indonesia’s weak prison system to continue to plot and to radicalise inmates.

The Philippines and Thailand, which both face separatist insurgencies in their Muslim-majority southern provinces, need to address the grievances which have given rise to discontent. These are mostly local in nature, and require locally-developed processes of resolution.

In the southern Philippines; the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) continue to present a terrorist threat, as do other manifestations of politically-motivated violence. The Mindanao region has served too as a refuge for extremists from elsewhere in the region. The distinctions between separatists, extremists and criminal groups in the Philippines are opaque, and kidnap for ransom is prevalent.

Thailand and Malaysia still present as attractive facilitation hubs for international terrorist groups, including Iranian-sponsored Lebanese Hizballah.

A final word on response: CT is extensive and collaborative

Contemporary terrorism is transnational, and hence counter-terrorism requires a collaborative transnational response. Cooperation between governments and between relevant government agencies is critical. Counter-terrorism is intelligence-led, but requires the involvement of many arms of government, and close coordination between them, to be effective.

Terrorism is in the end a potent form of criminality, where intelligence, military support, law enforcement, border security, financial controls, the application of due legal process, counter-radicalisation, social and community integration, socio-economic development, education and the rehabilitation of convicted terrorists all form part of a coherent policy response.

Long-term strategies and social programs, collectively described as countering violent extremism or CVE, form an integral part of a coherent government and community response.

The breadth of action necessary comprehensively to address terrorism has required the breaking down institutional equities and rivalries and instilling, through sometimes difficult processes of cultural change, habits of cooperation and information sharing.

For Australia, a federal state, establishment ten years ago of a National Counter Terrorism Committee, bringing together state and federal agencies and police forces to develop a national CT plan and to build тАУ and share тАУ capacity and policy development has been an important step. Joint CT teams in investigations are a practical outcome.

At the federal level, the inter-agency International CT Consultative Group (which I chair) seeks to shape and coordinate our offshore CT cooperation with partner countries. Analytic fusion centres such as the National Threat Analysis Centre (NTAC) and Counter Terrorism Control Centre (CTCC) bring whole of government expertise to bear on detecting threats.

The next decade: Dealing with terrorism as a long-term issue

Ten years after 9/11, governments are increasingly turning to longer-term strategies, in their own societies and in terms of support for neighbours and vulnerable countries more widely, to ameliorate the conditions which may give rise to terrorism.

Necessarily, these strategies are going to have to be implemented in climates of budget stringency. The substantial resources which were made available to develop CT capabilities in the wake of 9/11 and Bali will simply not be available to most governments.

Australia is a leader in CT capacity building and support, particularly in the development of intelligence and law enforcement capabilities, working with our partners in Southeast Asia and beyond. We also attach priority to assisting regional countries with so-called countering violent extremism (CVE) programs, which aim to counter the conditions which give rise to extremism and empower civic actors and communities to challenge the terrorist narrative.

Multi-disciplinary approaches are likely to be essential. Particularly in developing nations, development assistance programs which address socio-economic disadvantage and exclusion are likely to have long-term positive effects.

But these social conditions, and the motivations of individuals, are so variable, and often so local, that common pathways toward extremist violence remain unclear, and hence appropriate strategies to pre-empt individual engagement or to rehabilitate convicted terrorists are still largely experimental. CVE programs may have difficulty in showing results in the short term, making them vulnerable to budgetary scrutiny and challenge on grounds of effectiveness. As well, the involvement of western governments in CVE programs in Muslim majority countries, however well-intentioned, can also be contentious.

No single approach, nor any single arm of government, or single government, can effectively deal with the issues raised by transnational terrorism. It requires wide collaboration at the local, national and international levels, and will require a sustained commitment over an extended period.

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Tony Sheehan, Deputy Secretary, National Security and Justice Group, Attorney-General’s Department
Conference Keynote, 28 September 2012
ARC Linkage Project on Radicalisation – Conference 2012
Terrorism and Counter-terrorism in Australia and Indonesia: 10 years after Bali

Click here to view the text for Tony Sheehan’s keynote speech (link opens in new page/tab).

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