Sunday, February 02, 2014

2-Feb-14: In Australia, evidence that Syria's bloodbath is bringing jihad down under

Melburnians old enough to remember when the international airport was located at Essendon might also recall a large advertising sign on Mt Alexander Road which, as we recall it, proclaimed: "Fly Qantas to the World".

The picture of the drinks coaster on the right is the only souvenir we could find on-line of that rather dated commercial message. Growing up in Australia, there really was the sense that Australia was located somewhere just off to the side of the rest of the world, and that from Melbourne and Sydney you needed an airline to get there.

Times have changed. In the Melbourne Age yesterday, a news article ["Al-Qaeda terrorist threat to Australia"] says what observers paying attention to the rising tide of overt sympathy for Islamist jihad will have noted long ago: Australia today faces challenges not so different to those taxing the minds and resources of authorities in Western Europe and Asia. And while the outcome is still uncertain, the results till now are none too encouraging.

The report quotes the US director of national intelligence, James Clapper, who says terrorist organizations connected to Al-Qaeda, already known to be successfully enticing Australians to join the Syrian bloodbath, have established training camps in Syria to provide a basis for terrorist attacks on Australian soil by returning jihadists. Some key points:
  • "As many as 200 Australians are believed to have travelled to Syria to help rebels trying to topple dictator Bashar al-Assad." 
  • "US intelligence has evidence of ''training complexes'' within Syria ''to train people to go back to their countries and conduct terrorist acts''.
  • "About half of the Australians fighting in Syria are believed to be members of Jabhat al-Nusra. Others have joined the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an even more militant Islamist group with strong ties to al-Qaeda."
  • A world away from the peaceful Australian
    Gold Coast, Amira Karroum was killed
    alongside her Muslim husband Yusuf Ali
    in Syria [Image Source]
  • Australia's counter-terrorism ambassador Bill Fisher shares the assessment. He says that while "the likelihood of an attack like 9/11 in the West has lessened", the threat of "smaller but nonetheless deadly attacks is very real - hitting bars where Westerners congregate overseas, and other soft targets. In this respect, the threat is worse"...
Australia's awareness of how threats like these translate into tragic outcomes took a startling turn upwards when a jihadi terror attack on a tourist spot in Bali, Indonesia in 2002 cost more than two hundred innocent lives, including those of 88 Australians. [See our contribution in the wake of the tragedy: "11-Oct-07: Kuta beach, five years on"].

Since then, there have been reports and video clips of religious calls to violence by Australian Islamic figures [here, here, here among numerous other instances], violent street demonstrations in Sydney [here, here, here and elsewhere], and front-page reports like this January 2014 article entitled "Amira Karroum was one of many Australians being recruited to fight in Syria" about a young Australian woman who seemed so ordinary, so unremarkable, "the unlikeliest terrorist" until - after her violent death - she is revealed to have written to family:
"Everything is temporary... Islam is my identity. The burqa is my shield. Jannah (the Islamic garden of paradise) is my destination.'' [Telegraph, Sydney, January 18, 2014]
A year ago, Qantas - which faces non-trivial commercial challenges - entered into a strategic partnership with Emirates, a highly successful, well funded airline that is wholly owned by the government of Dubai, a monarchy.

Dubai's government has been wholly controlled by the Al Maktoum family since 1833, entirely untroubled by the need for elections. Qantas, the Al Maktoum business partner, now happily channels much of its Europe-bound traffic via Dubai (concerning which, we posted a string of comments in 2012 and 2013 starting with this one). The volume of passenger and freight traffic between the Middle East and Australia has grown accordingly and is likely to keep doing so. This is going to have an impact. As the Dubai-based on-line journal Arabian Business recently noted:
"Dubai controls strategic trade routes in the world and also more than 65 terminals across the world, including new developments underway in India, Africa, Europe and South America. What this means is, Dubai can influence global trade through these particular ports and have controls over them... Once they implement this and once Dubai starts implementing this in relation to its own trade, what you will see is the beginning of Islamisation that is led by Dubai.” [Arabian Business, October 2, 2013]
Concerns about a Dubai role in the funding of terror get occasional media attention, like this January 2010 piece from The Guardian, "Dubai's dark side targeted by international finance police":
"Fears are intensifying that the emirate has become a global centre for terror funding, money-laundering, drug money and mafia cash..." [The Guardian]
Significant changes have clearly overcome once-isolated Australia's place in the world in the past decade or two. So the notion that religiously motivated terrorists - jihadis - are eyeing far-away places like Australia ought not to be a surprise to anyone. The reality is that neither distant Australia nor anywhere else on earth is far enough away from "the world" to be insulated from the threats that the loathsome jihadists embody.

The warning that hardened Islamist fighters, energized by what they may have seen or done in the slaughter-house that Syria has become, are returning to hospitable Australia with mayhem on their minds ought to continue to get serious attention.

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