​What the ANZAC Day terror plot tells us about coercive counter-terrorism

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(18 yr old Sevdet Besim charged with conspiring to plan a terrorist attack in Melbourne shown here making an ISIS-associated sign on Instagram in March 2015)

The Anzac Day terror plot shows that young Australians are continuing to be radicalised despite increased police power and tougher penalties for returning foreign fighters. Critics of the Abbott government's current hamfisted approach call for non-coercive community engagement, writes Parashar Das.

THE ANZAC Day terror plot uncovered by an AFP raid in Melbourne reinforces the immediacy of Australia’s counter-terrorism paradox, namely, our inability to grapple with the continuing radicalisation of young Australians either plotting domestic acts of terror or fighting abroad for Islamic State’s stake in a complex sectarian war.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott saw last weekend’s raid as a government success against terrorism.

“The fact that this particular plot was interdicted as it was shows that our security agencies are working very effectively.”

Abbott’s announcement that the government will collaborate with Turkey to stop Australian jihadists using the Turkish border to join the Syrian conflict, suggests harsher coercive measures will continue to dominate Coalition counter-terrorism policy.

The counter-terror raids in Melbourne were carried out using the lower “reasonable suspicion” threshold, showing that government’s tougher measures can succeed in foiling imminent terror plots. 

Yet Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews’ response to the ANZAC Day terror plot admits little progress towards tackling the radicalisation that leads to these attacks.

“We don’t fully know what drives many of these young people...we need to do much better.”

In a Lowy Institute report, Monash Global Terrorism Research Centre expert, Andrew Zammit, looks to Europe’s successful experimenting with non-coercive Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) measures that use community engagement through mentorship, online and rehabilitative services to strengthen marginalised communities’ resilience to IS propaganda.

In contrast to recent policymaking efforts to deter foreign fighters, the report is critical of the Coalition’s relative inaction on CVE efforts.

'Questions remain as to how any new CVE approach will be implemented by the Government.'

The report’s critique of Coalition policy is salient in understanding the barometer for Australia’s success against jihadism is not how efficiently the AFP uses wider powers to prevent the ANZAC Day plot. 

In August 2014, the Government re-invested in Countering Violent Extremism measures combining a $21.7 million online promotion of counter-narratives with a $13.4 million Living Safe Together intervention program that determines individuals to be at-risk and refers them to support services.

However, Associate Professor Anne Aly, founding chair of People Against Violent Extremism, believes these measures are misguided and tells the ABC that the Government’s approach to CVE policy is wrong to treat Australian youths as a national security issue.

“You don’t go out and say, ‘Right, you, you’re radicalised, you need deradicalisation, come here, go to this training program, go to this education program, go see this counsellor’.  It doesn’t work.”

Andrew Zammit argues that young Australians are continuing to be radicalised undeterred by increases in police power and  tougher penalties for returning foreign fighters.

IS propaganda continues to attract Australian youth and the two 18 year old Melbournians detained over the weekend were found to share a connection with top Australian IS recruiter Neil Prakash through the Al-Furqan Islamic Centre in Springvale South.

Since the raids, Prakash has made a fresh appeal to his Australian followers whilst appearing in an Islamic State propaganda video.

Australian Islamic State recruiter Neil Prakash calls for attacks in Australia

Though CVE is an experimental area, The Australian Strategic Policy Institute recommends government funding is better directed at supporting existing online anti-terror campaigns from within the community.

Whether or not CVE measures prove effective, the ANZAC Day plot tells us successful counter-terrorism policy needs not only successful AFP intervention but equally efficient non-coercive community engagement to disenchant those falling prey to the jihadist narrative.

You can follow Parashar on Twitter @Parashar_Das

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