Terrorism in Australia is by no means a new phenomena. When I discuss the topic of successful terrorist attacks in Australia pre-2001, most people (even Australians) find it remarkable that five bombings and one assassination have occurred on Australian soil between 1972 and 1986. Post-2001 has certainly seen no respite in Australia and Australians being specifically targeted by terrorists, with Islamic extremists being the preeminent belligerents. Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri specifically mentioned Australia on six occasions as being a legitimate terrorist target based on our military commitment to both Afghanistan and Iraq. The Islamic State has also issued similar warnings based on our Prime Minister’s immediate decision to send troops and aircraft to the region as part of the global response.
On an international stage, Australia has had citizens killed in the September 11 attacks as well as the terrorist attacks in Bali in 2002 and 2005. The Australian Embassy was also specifically targeted in a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) in 2004 in Jakarta, Indonesia. Domestically, Australia’s law enforcement and intelligence agencies boast a proud list of foiled terrorist attacks since 2001. Faheem Khalid, Mohammed Abderrahman aka Willie Brigitte, the Sydney Five, the Benbrika Group in Melbourne, and the Holsworthy Barracks Terror Plot are some of the most notable examples of Australia’s successes in its domestic war on terrorism. A number of the convicted individuals had links to international terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab, and their thwarted plans possessed all of the cowardly hallmarks that these groups are now infamous for practicing.
More recently, the events in Syria and Iraq concerning the Islamic State, and the Australian Government’s unwavering contribution to the multinational effort to destroy this movement, has again placed Australia well and truly in the spotlight as a legitimate terrorist target. Australia’s national security service, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), has assessed that there are in excess of 150 Australian citizens who have left our shores and joined the ranks of IS. One of the most dangerous effects of these citizen defections is the way in which those currently fighting are exerting control over the radicals who are still living in Australia. The intelligence that sparked the largest counterterrorism raids in Australian history last month was based on the recorded exhortations of a senior Australian fighting with IS to networks of support back in Australia. The purported demand was for this network to conduct demonstration killings; specifically, they were to behead random people in Australia whilst videotaping their efforts—intended for mass distribution across different social media outlets.
These arrests and the type of violent crime that these individuals were allegedly planning have earned 2014 a special place in Australian counterterrorism history. On the morning of the 18th September, police across the states of Queensland and New South Wales carried out the largest counterterrorism operation in Australian history. More than 800 heavily armed officers and Police Tactical Groups (PTG’s) were involved, 25 homes were raided, 15 people were detained, and one person was charged with terrorism related offenses. Five days later on the 23rd September, an 18-year-old Victorian man, Numan Haider, was shot dead by police after he stabbed the two officers he had voluntarily agreed to meet for questioning on separate terrorism related concerns. Police found a second, larger knife on him as well as an IS flag in his pocket. The 30th of September then saw further raids conducted in the state of Victoria after a joint operation involving the FBI and the Australian Federal Police (AFP) uncovered evidence that a 23-year-old Australian man was financing a U.S. citizen fighting in Syria.
The Lucky Country has been Australia’s nickname since Donald Horne first coined the term in 1964. Whilst we certainly enjoy a prosperous and enviable lifestyle, there should be no doubt in anyone’s minds that there are cowards who live among us that would prefer to attack everything we stand for and take advantage of our tolerant and accepting way of life. Australia is certainly not immune to the global threat of terrorism, and the predominant manifestation of Islamic extremism is the antithesis to what Australia has been and always will be. This contemporary form of politico-religious terrorism does not appear to follow a template or recognisable pattern other than the fact that their twisted, ideological objectives call for as much damage, death, and fear as possible.
The following words were written in a statement issued by the IRA after the Brighton hotel bombing: “We only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always.” This is an extremely accurate assessment of the uphill battle that our law enforcement and intelligence agencies have on their hands. Their exceptional joint effort has so far prevented any major terrorist plan from being executed on Australian soil post-2001. We can only hope that major police operations, arrests, and prosecutions remain the only time that we hear the words “domestic terrorism” broadcasted through our media channels.