I am a Burmese exile taking a near-permanent refuge in New York and Sydney. Here are my essays about Burma and anything else I feel like writing about. And posting the articles I like from selected sites. Bridging Burma to the world this Blog is more of a Politically-Oriented Literary Blog than a Plain News Blog or a Sophisticated Thoughts Blog.
A nightclub bouncer who
reportedly became a terror group leader. A man who tweeted a photo of his young
son clutching a severed head. A teenager who is believed to have turned suicide
bomber, and others suspected of attempting to travel to Syria to join the
Islamic State movement. All of them, Australian.
London-based International Center for the Study of Radicalisation and Political
Violence reports that between 100 and 250 Australians have joined Sunni
militants in Iraq and Syria. Given Australia's vast distance from the region
and its population of just 24 million, it is a remarkable number. The center
estimates that about 100 fighters came from the United States, which has more
than 13 times as many people as Australia.
Experts disagree about why the Islamic State group has
been so effective recruiting in Australia, which is widely regarded as a
multicultural success story, with an economy in an enviable 24th year of
Possible explanations include that some Australian
Muslims are poorly integrated with the rest of the country, and that Islamic
State recruiters have given Australia particular attention. In addition, the
Australian government failed to keep tabs on some citizens who had been
radicalised, and moderate Muslims have been put off by some of Prime Minister
Tony Abbott's comments about their community.
Greg Barton, a global terrorism expert at Monash
University in Melbourne, said Australia and some other countries underestimated
Islamic State's "pull factor".
"We're all coming to terms with the fact that this
is a formidable targeter and predatory recruiter that goes after individuals
one by one with a very masterful use of technology, and our sense of confidence
that because we've got society working well makes us secure misses the
point," Barton said.
Muslims make up
about 2.2 per cent of the population in Australia, compared to just one per cent
in the United States. And while many US Muslims are from families who migrated
in pursuit of the American economic dream, a larger proportion of Australian
Muslims are from families who fled Lebanon's civil war in the 1970s and '80s.
Australian Muslims of Lebanese origin are largely based
in Sydney, the country's biggest city. They have been less successful in
integrating into Australian society than many other groups, and the first
Australian-born generation of these migrant families has been overrepresented
in terrorism offenses and general street crime.
Mohammad Ali Baryalei, an ethnic Lebanese who reportedly
became a high-ranking member of the Islamic State group's operational command,
was formerly a Sydney nightclub bouncer and bit-part television actor.
Australian security agencies suspect he single-handedly recruited dozens of
Australians and helped them enter Syria.
Once a Sydney street preacher with the Muslim group
Street Dawah, Baryalei was reportedly killed in battle in Syria last autumn at
age 33. The Australian government has yet to confirm his death.
accused in court documents of inciting from afar Islamic State sympathisers in
Sydney to brutally slay a randomly selected victim. Security services recorded
a telephone conversation between him and Omarjan Azari, who is awaiting trial
on charges that include preparing to commit a terrorist act.
guys need to do is pick any random unbeliever," Baryalei allegedly told
Azari, according to court testimony. "Backpacker, tourist, American,
French or British, even better."
Sydney-born Khaled Sharrouf, also ethnic Lebanese,
horrified millions last year by posting on his Twitter account a photo of his
seven-year-old son clutching the severed head of a Syrian soldier. US Secretary
of State John Kerry described the image as "one of the most disturbing,
stomach-turning, grotesque photographs ever displayed".
Sharrouf's appearance on the Syrian battlefield
highlighted a flaw in Australia's defenses against the Islamic State group: lax
border security. Sharrouf had served a prison sentence in Australia for
planning a foiled terrorist attack and had been banned from leaving the
country, but used his brother's passport to leave in 2013.
The Australian government acknowledged there was a problem
with a system of airport security that was more focused on who was coming in
than on who was leaving. The government announced in August that biometric
screening will be rolled out at all Australian international airports as part
of $630 million in new spending on intelligence, law enforcement and border
Counterterrorism police units have been attached to major
airports to screen passengers. The unit at Sydney Airport was instrumental in
recently intercepting two Sydney-born brothers, aged 16 and 17, who were about
to fly to Turkey without their parents' knowledge. Authorities suspect the
brothers were headed to Syria.
net still has holes.
Jake Bilardi, an 18-year-old who converted to Islam a few
years ago, had avoided Australia's counterterror radar when he left his
Melbourne home for Syria in August. After Bilardi's family reported him
missing, police found chemicals that could be used to make a bomb at his home.
Images of Bilardi armed with a rifle in front of Islamic flags appeared on
social media sites later that year.
A picture of a young man resembling Bilardi behind the
wheel of a van was posted this month with claims from the Islamic State group
that foreign fighters from Australia and other countries took part in a near-simultaneous
attack in Iraq that involved at least 13 suicide car bombs and killed two
police officers. The Australian government has yet to confirm Bilardi's death.
Bilardi's father, who became estranged from Bilardi and
his five older siblings after divorcing their mother, said the Islamic State
recruit had had psychological problems as a child that were not addressed.
"He was a soft target," John Bilardi told
Australia's "60 Minutes" television program in a television
interview. "He was a prize; he was a trophy that they paraded online. They
gloated about how they had recruited this young boy who didn't even have a
Muslim background," he said. "They used him for their own — what
cause? All I see is that they're murdering people, including my son," he
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has been granted enhanced
powers to prevent Australians from joining IS and, in some cases, from
returning to Australia. She has cancelled about 100 passports, including Jake
Bilardi's, though he left before his passport was revoked.
Keeping would-be militants from leaving Australia,
however, increases the risk that they will wreak havoc at home.
an 18-year-old Muslim Australian of Afghan origin, stabbed two Melbourne police
officers and was shot dead in September, a week after his passport had been
cancelled. He had caught authorities' attention months earlier over what police
considered to be troubling behavior, including waving what appeared to be an
Islamic State flag at a shopping mall.
Australian authorities were clearly taken by surprise by
the growing domestic menace posed by Islamic State followers. Less than a year
ago, officials reduced security at Parliament House to cut costs. Since then,
security at the seat of national government has been increased to unprecedented
In September, the government raised Australia's terrorist
threat level to the second-highest level on a four-tier scale. Police
attempting to disrupt terrorist plots have raided scores of homes. Several
suspects have been charged and others have been detained without charge under
new counterterrorism laws. The nation's main domestic spy agency is juggling
more than 400 high-priority counterterrorism investigations — more than double
the number a year ago.
intensified vigilance was no hindrance to Man Monis, a 50-year-old
Iranian-born, self-styled cleric with a long criminal history. In December,
Monis took 18 people hostage at a downtown Sydney cafe, forced them to hold up
a flag bearing the Islamic declaration of faith against a cafe window and
demanded he be delivered a flag of the Islamic State group. Monis and two
hostages were killed at the end of a 16-hour siege.
A government review found that Monis had fallen off a
terrorist watch list despite repeated warnings to security services from
members of the public concerned by his online rants. As a Shiite Muslim, he was
thought an unlikely recruit to Islamic State, a Sunni Muslim movement.
As traumatic as the hostage crisis was, it could not be
compared to the enormity of the September 11 terror attacks on the United
States. Hass Dellal, executive director of the Australian Multicultural
Foundation, which promotes awareness of cultural diversity within Australia,
said that history might make Americans more resistant to Islamic State
Dellal also said public discussion of issues around
radicalisation and extremism is more balanced in the United States than in
Australia, which effectively banned Middle Eastern Muslims from immigrating
until the 1970s.
have been critical of comments by Prime Minister Abbott, accusing him of
driving a wedge between them and the rest of Australia. "I've often heard
Western leaders describe Islam as a religion of peace. I wish more Muslim
leaders would say that more often, and mean it," said Abbott in a speech
in February that angered many Muslims with its suggestion of duplicity.