Sunday 10 December 2017

Strategic assessment on terrorism 2018

           Strategic assessment on terrorism 2018

           Box, M. (2017). Strategic assessment on terrorism 2018. Retrieved from

Terrorism has been a major issue in political discourse in Australia since the 2001 9/11 attacks on the United States. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the future of terrorism in Australia over the next five years. This is a forecasting paper which is based on the proposition that the future can be forecast by reflecting on patterns in history and that trends which are occurring in the present will continue. The caveat to this proposition is that there are always significant events – such as 9/11 -- that cause a pivot. Nevertheless, it is important to acknowledge that in its most recent publicly available report ASIO (Commonwealth of Australia, 2016, p. 17) highlights that the threat remains probable and is likely to continue as such into the foreseeable future. Furthermore, it is alluded to in that report that right wing nationalists/’patriots’ are becoming an increased concern (p. 19). Taking account of that assessment, this paper will be broken into essentially two parts. The first section will explore the future of the Jihadist terrorist threat with the assumption that the Islamic State ultimately loses effective control of the territory it controls in northern Iran and Syria and hence its position as a statelet  (Cronin, 2015, p. 88). The second section will explore the emergence of far right groups as a possible source of terrorist threat. It should be remembered that right wing ideologies (right for life) were responsible for a terrorist attack on a Melbourne abortion clinic in 2001 (ABC (local radio), 2001) and a member of the anti-Islam group Reclaim is awaiting trial on terrorism offences (Davey, 2016). However, before this examination commences it is important to have a brief recap regarding terrorism and give an outline of the methodology used.

Terrorism. It is important that any discussion regarding terrorism has a clear foundation; however, such a discussion would be well beyond the scope of this paper so as a consequence a short survey of the literature on terrorist motives is contained in Annex A. Based upon that review it is argued that terrorism is made up of the following elements:

1.       preformed by an irregular non-state actor wishing to achieve a political/politico-religious aim;
2.       targets non-combatants to cause fear so as to force them to undertake or refrain from undertaking  a political action; and 

3.       produce an overreaction by government so as to undermine its legitimacy. 

This is reflected in the official definition of terrorism in Australia which can be found in the Criminal Code Act 1996 (Cth) section 101.1(1) “… ‘terrorist act’ means an action or threat of action where:  … (b) the action is done or the threat is made with the intention of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause; and  (c)  the action is done or the threat is made with the intention of:  (i)  coercing, or influencing by intimidation, the government of the Commonwealth or a State, Territory or foreign country, or of part of a State, Territory or foreign country; or  (ii)  intimidating the public or a section of the public.”

Methodology. This paper has been based upon a mixed methods approach. Initially the most recently available annual reports of ASIO (Commonwealth of Australia, 2016) and the AFP (Commonwealth of Australia, 2017) where assessed to determine the current trends in the terrorist threat. These trends where then used to conduct literature searchers using a snowball approach. Environmental scanning tools were assessed -- particularly PESTLE and Force Field Analysis – to determine which best suited to this project. Force Field Analysis (with elements of brainstorming and What if? analysis) was chosen as it was believed to be best suited to the data collected in the literature search. The diagram produced in this process is reproduced as Annex B.

Jihadist Terrorism.

According to the ASIO assessment (Commonwealth of Australia, 2016, p. 22), whilst the Islamic State remains the main source of terrorist threats -- either directly through affiliates or through self-radicalised devotees -- al-Qaeda remains a consistent threat particularly in Africa. As the Islamic State continues to loose territory, and with the fall of its strong holds in Mosul and Raqqa, the question arises what will happen to the large number of foreign fighters who have been drawn to its caliphate? McCabe (2017, p. 97)  highlights that it will be difficult if not impossible for the foreign fighters who are not from the region -- in particular those from the west -- to blend into the population as the caliphate falls and form an underground resistance. This will not be a safe place for them with Kurds, Shia and Assad regime forces, not to mention ordinary Sunnis caught up in the regimes terror, will want to exact their revenge. Furthermore, in the aftermath of the 1980s conflict in Afghanistan against the Soviets, many fighters chose to return to their home countries continuing the conflict in a different guise (Byman, 2016, pp. 79-80). As a result it is argued that these fighters will either defect (either to another Jihadist group such as al-Qaeda or to the government), disengage or form an underground Islamic State inspired wave of domestic terrorism.

  Defection to the government. This proposition involves the returning fighters defecting so to and assist government agencies particularly renouncing the proposition for change though violent jihad. The notion is not as implausible as one might think even for seasoned fighters. For example, after supporting and participating in armed struggle through terrorist means to overthrow the Mubarak regime in Egypt, on mass members of the Islamic Group renounced that struggle and urged others to do the same (Wright, 2008). The circumstances which faced the members of the Islamic Group are not dissimilar to that which will face returning Islamic State fighters: long or indefinite detention. For instance, Lynch, McGarrity, and Williams (2015, pp. 84, 86-87) outline that having been present in a declared area, the returnees are liable for a life sentence. Cooperating with law enforcement authorities in the way the Islamic Group members did may be a prudent option to minimalised an inevitable sentence or increase the probability of parole (Bronitt & McSherry, 2005, p. 42). This is further the case when the control order regime is taken into account (Lynch et al., 2015, p. 171) including being the target of the security forces such as the ‘Returning Terrorist Suspects Team’ which the AFP has established to coordinate the Australian Government response to interdicting returning fighters (Commonwealth of Australia, 2017, p. 70). For example, media have been reporting that an eighteen year old Australian captioned by Lebanese forces attempting to join Islamic State is now providing information security forces and western intelligence agencies  (Whinnett, 2017). Furthermore, Speckhard, Shajkovci, and Yayla (2017, p. 86) conclude that the “… most credible voices to raise against ISIS are those of insiders – ISIS defectors – who have seen the cruel reality of life under the Islamic State and the ISIS-controlled territories…” making such defectors a valuable resource.

Defection to other Jihadist Groups.  Stern and Berger (2016, p. 179) explain that in the Jihadists pledge allegiance through a process known as Bayah; however, “Bayah is extended from leader to leader, not group to group, so when the players change, it must be renewed.” As a consequence should the Islamic State leader Baghdadi be killed – which seems highly likely – then those who have pledged loyalty to him would be freed from that commitment unless they make a new Bayah with his successor. This was a similar phenomenon that occurred in the transition of affiliations following the death of bin Laden with many turning to Islamic State.  Cronin (2015, pp. 93-94)  outlines that Islamic State attracted people by offering them adventure and short term gratification as well as being associated with its overwhelming success.  McCabe (2017, p. 98)  further adds that the Islamic State propaganda was highly attractive when they were victors; however, it is going to be very difficult to maintain from defeat. McCabe (2017, p. 98) argues that a major impediment to Islamic State in the future will be to counter this point: if they had the support of Allah why there was no intervention on their behalf. However, Speckhard et al. (2017, p. 84) argue returning home the foreign fighters will find it difficult to adjust given the “… emotional arousal from the battlefield experiences …” which “… the calm, bored annul of being back home …” will not match. The authors argue that they will thrive for “… a clear purpose and cause.” Therefore, despite them possibly being disenfranchised with Islamic State they may become vulnerable for recruitment by other groups such as the historic precedent of the Afghan Arabs.

Underground domestic wave. An alternative to leaving Islamic State could be that devotees continue the fight back home. Speckhard et al. (2017, pp. 81-82) argue that whilst Islamic State is losing ground on the battlefield it is winning ground in the digital one continuing to attract followers through its online narratives. ASIO highlighted that those radicalised online and have not visited the Middle East theatre pose a significant threat of terrorism in Australia with all of those involved in both disrupted and committed terrorist acts having been radicalised in this way (Commonwealth of Australia, 2016, p. 19). As a consequence, it is suggested that even with defeat of the physical caliphate it is possible that the Islamic State will continue since the group has been apt at reinventing itself after a major setback only to come back stronger. For instance, Cronin (2015, p. 89) points out that after the group was almost wiped out in 2006 following cooperation between United States forces and Sunni tribal groups they were able to reform in United States military prisons. Therefore, it is suggested that this adaptability may occur in cyberspace with them utilising their skill in harnessing social media platforms.

Right wing groups

The first half of this paper has focused upon jihadist terrorist threats, particularly that of the Islamic State. Nonetheless, there is an often neglected group which has consistently been a threat right wing groups. Klein, Gruenewald, and Smith (2016, p. 225) argue to “…develop informed strategies for countering violent extremism, [it] is necessary to understand the various threats posed by far-right terrorists.” Gruenewald, Chermak, and Freilich (2013, p. 67)  go further, arguing that in the United States “…most loaner attacks have been committed by far-rights and many argued that such attacks are increasing.” Their reference to loaners was because they were the focus of the particular study; however, there is nothing to suggest that the phenomenon is any different for right wing groups in general. For instance, they cite figures from the United States Extremist Crime Database which show for the period 1990 to 2010 140 homicide incidents were committed by the far right whilst only 30 were committed by Jihadists (excluding 9/11) (p 67). Furthermore, Chermak, Freilich, and Simone (2010, p. 2021)  argue that 85 percent of terrorist incidents in the United States are committed by far-right domestic groups. 

Gruenewald et al. (2013, p. 67) go on to note that these hate groups tending to connect through the use of social media with like-minded individuals. This is an interest observation as it is exactly the same method which Islamic State is using to radicalise people in Australia (Commonwealth of Australia, 2016, p. 17). Furthermore, this is particularly relevant as Chermak et al. (2010, p. 2025) report in the United States there had been some cooperation between Jihadist groups, with some far-right groups seeing “… that any enemy of the U.S. government and the Jews was worthy of their support.” Although these studies have not particularly mentioned Australia it is argued that they are pertinent due to ASIO having highlighted the rise of such groups in Australia poses a significant risk. Two aspects of far-right groups have been identified and it is theorised may pose a threat to Australia in the future: Sovereign Citizens and religious groups.      

Sovereign Citizens. Sovereign Citizens originate in the United States and have an ideology which is opposed to government, especially federal, controls over their activities. According to Dean Alexander (2016) they do not particularly share any religious outlook but focus on the illegitimacy of government and the right to individual autonomy. It is their aim to break the link between the government and the individual to ensure and promote greater autonomy and freedom. As a consequence, they believe that government regulation must be on an opt-in basis and hence if an individual wishes they can ignore requests of police, taxation officials and local government. The Sydney Criminal Lawyers (2016) argue that the Sovereign Citizens equate statute law with maritime law and hence it has no legitimacy on dry land: the only true law being common law. They establish their own common law courts to determine what the law free from statute actually is (Dean Alexander, 2016). Blanco (2014) argues that the “… sovereign citizen movement is considered the top threat for domestic terrorism according to a survey of state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies.” The Federal Bureau of Investigation (2010) concurs with that assessment.

In their report for 730 (ABC (21), 2015), Thomas and McGregor demonstrated that the Sovereign Citizen movement has become established  in Australia. In a NSW Police report the journalists obtained, it is outlined that as many as three hundred members of the movement are resident in that state and they are increasing at an expeditious rate. The police report also stated that group has “… the motivation and capability to act against government interests and should be considered a potential terrorist threat.” Police intelligence reports articulated in the story outline that “… incidents involving sovereign citizens in Australia ranges from displaying homemade registration plates and ‘plans to use paint bombs to disrupt court proceedings’, to making plans to kidnap a judge, judicial officials and a police officer.” These are not theoretical threats, for instance in 2014 a NSW Environment Department compliance and regulation officer was shoot and killed trying to gather evidence of illegal clearing (Woodburn & McNally, 2014). The tendency for those with sympathies for Sovereign Citizen ideology to become more active may have been increased with the exclusion from the Senate of One Nation candidates Malcolm Roberts and Rod Culleton both of whom have similarities to the groups ideologies particularly Roberts (Wilson, 2016) leaving the devotees feeling disenfranchised.

Furthermore, Sydney Criminal Lawyers (2016) outlined that Sovereign Citizen ideology “… has been embraced by Indigenous communities; a natural fit for people who have never accepted sovereignty.” They quote Mark McMurtrie who is promoting the ‘Original Sovereign Tribal Foundation’: “‘Our tribes are sovereign …  Not one piece of legislation of the crown has any authority over any person. If a court is going to exercise any of the powers attaching a right of ownership over me, forcing me to accept any right of punishment over me, then I will be addressing the matter from a point of view of slavery.’” This is a concerning development given the arguments made by activists such as Mansell (2015) that indigenous people should be given autonomy in a seventh state and the rejection of the Uluru Declaration proposal for an indigenous advisory body to be included in the constitution (Brennan, 2017). This could see collaboration between these disaffected groups and jihadists in the same way right wing groups have been attracted to their fight against a common enemy.

Religious right.  The religious-right ideology has already been responsible for one terrorist attack in Australia in recent years: the 2001 shooting at an East Melbourne abortion clinic (ABC (local radio), 2001). This incident is similar to that which had occurred in the United States: the man entered the clinic pulled a rifle and shot dead a security guard before being tackled to the ground. There are three events in political discourse which are occurring which may inflame the supporters of these groups: (i) protest exclusion zones around abortion clinics, (ii) marriage equality, and (iii) assisted dieing. For instance, in their monitoring of the debate leading up to the same-sex plebiscite Tilley and Hoad (2017) show that the majority of violence, threats or property damage in that debate has been associated with the ‘no’ debate on religious grounds. Furthermore, there are claims – particularly from the former prime minister Tony Abbott -- that even a no loss in the survey with a significant descent (>40%) would be a victory and the start of a new conservative movement (Barlow, 2017). Therefore, it is argued that these developments may be a push factor toward further violence.


This paper has examined the propensity for terrorism to continue to be a threat within Australia over the next five years. Based on an assessment utilising the Force Field Analysis tool it has been argued that both Jihadist and Right Wing groups will continue to pose a threat and in some cases may collaborate. The driving forces for this phenomena are the polarised political discourse which is currently occurring accompanied by a lack of perceived opportunity to have their ‘rightful’ views acknowledge. A further driving force is the psychological need for the ‘buzz’ which their previous involvement particularly in the Middle East theatre gave. Restraining forces are the actions taken by security forces to detect and prosecute those involved in these activities as well as disillusion following losses particularly by Islamic State. Access to firearms is a particular driving force for terrorists incidents particularly in intensity (Legault & Hendrickson, 2009, p. 551); however, the tough firearms laws in Australia may be a restraining force. Nevertheless, it is argued that these restraints to not negate the driving forces and hence the threat although evolving will continue.


Annex A – Motivations of terrorists.


Contribution to understanding of terrorists motives
Cary (2009)
Outlines that terrorists are “. . . determent to impose their will upon others. Unlike nation states . . . terrorists resort to violence as the first and final solution...” (p. 13).
David Alexander and Klein (2003)
 “Terrorism is psychological warfare…” (p. 494).
Gearson (2002)
Argues that the essence of terrorism is the utilisation of fear. The ability to cause fear is an important element of terrorism as fear and panic will undermine public resolve or cause an overreaction that undermines legitimacy (p. 8).
Hoffman (2006)
“By distinguishing terrorists from other types of criminal and irregular fighters and … other forms of crime and irregular warfare, … terrorism is:
·         ineluctably political in aims and motives;
·         violent – or, equally important, threatens violence;
·         designed to have far-reaching psychological repercussions beyond the immediate victim or target;
·         conducted either by
o   an organization with an identifiable chain of command or conspiratorial cell structure …
o   individuals or a small collection of individuals directly influenced, motivated, or inspired by the ideological aims or example of some existent terrorist movements and/or its leaders; and
·         perpetrated by a subnational group or nonstate entity…” (p. 40). 
Hope (1977)
In his report into Australian intelligence and security agencies remarked that  “Terrorism may be so widespread as to approach a state of civil war; it may be isolated or irregular and have a limited direct effect upon the country in which it is manifested in violent action…” (p. 59).
Kilcullen (2010)
Argues that terrorism  is “… politically motivated violence against civilians, conducted with the intention to coerce through fear…” and it “…is a component in almost all insurgencies, and insurgent objectives … lie behind almost all nonstate terrorism…. ” (p. 184).
Manningham-Buller (2003)
The former head of British intelligence agency MI5 argues, “[n]ormal life is what the terrorist seeks to destroy and creating fear is part of their agenda…”(p. 3).
Pinto and Wardlaw (1989)
Argue terrorism has two broad goals:
1.       to induce widespread fear in the population; and
2.       provoke the government to overreact and thereby undermine their legitimacy (p. 4).
Richardson (2006)
Summed up the motives as to achieve:
1.       revenge: the grievance directed towards the perception of a wrong whether that is actual or imagined (p. 113);
2.       renown: achieving publicity to the cause and spread fear (p. 120); and
3.       reaction: the ‘propaganda by deed’ sending a message to instil fear and cause a response based upon fear (pp. 128-129).
Stern and Berger (2016)
“… define terrorism as an act or threat of violence against noncombatants, with the object of extracting revenge, intimidating, or otherwise influencing an audience…” (pp 9-10). They further add that there are two characteristics which distinguish terrorism from other forms of violence:
1.       it is aimed at noncombatants; and
2.       is designed for dramatic effect where causing fear is more important than the physical act (p. 10).
Tucker (1999)
Classifies terrorist motives into four main groups:
  1. nationalist or separatist agendas;
  2. retaliation or revenge for real or perceived injury;
  3. protest government policy; and
  4. defend animal rights.
These motivations are not necessarily mutually exclusive (p. 501).
Weimann (2006)
In a survey of academic writings on terrorism, Schmid and Jongman found the following key elements:
  1. use of violence;
  2. symbolic choices of victim;
  3. performance by an organisation;
  4. advanced planning;
  5. operational seriality;
  6. an absence of moral restraint;
  7. political motivation; and
8.       the use of fear and anxiety (p. 21).
White (2009)
Sums up terrorism in simple terms consisting of three parts:
1.       use of force;
2.       against innocent people; and
3.       for political purposes (p. 10).
Wilkinson (2011)
“Terrorism can be conceptually and empirically distinguished from other modes of violence and conflict by the following characteristics:
1.       It is premeditated and designed to create a climate of extreme fear;
2.       It is directed at a wider target than the immediate victims;
3.       It inherently involves attacks on random or symbolic targets, including civilians;
4.       It is considered by the society in which it occurs as ‘extra-normal’, that is in the literal sense that it violates the norms regulating disputes, protests and dissent; and
5.       It is used primarily, though not exclusively, to influence the political behaviour of governments, communities or specific social groups…” (p. 6)
Williams (2004)
Defines terrorism as “. . . politically . . . motivated violence, directed generally against non-combatants, intended to shock and terrify, to achieve strategic outcomes…”(p 7). Strategic outcomes are usually to polarise the population, undermine the government, or cause government forces to react violently (p. 9).


Annex B – Force Field Analysis


Driving forces
Restraining forces
Growth of Islamic State affiliates →
Terrorist Threat
← Islamic State loss of Mosul and Raqqa
Difficulty of foreign fighters to blend into Middle East society and go underground →
Difficulty of foreign fighters to blend into Middle East society and go underground
← Foreign Fighters legislation
← Seek mitigation in criminal proceedings
← Targeted by police and intelligence agencies
← Death of Baghdadi (leader of Islamic State)
Need for adventure and sense of purpose →
← Why didn’t Allah come to Islamic State’s aid?
Difficulty adjusting to everyday life after being a foreign fighter
Islamic State use of social media to radicalise
← Voices of dissatisfaction of returned foreign fighters
← Losses of prestige of being victorious (Islamic State)
Growth of extreme-right wing in United States
United State right wing groups creating a virtual ‘community’ through social media
Cooperation between Jihadists and extreme-right wing against a common enemy
Expeditious growth of Sovereign Citizens in Australia
Section 44 issues excluding One Nation Party Senators 
← One Nation Party giving a legitimate menace for conservative/right wing voice
Failure of Indigenous recognition process
Rejection of Uluru Declaration
Marriage equality plebiscite
Right to die legislation/debate in Victoria
Exclusion zones prevention anti-abortion protests
Calls for a new ‘conservative way’
Access to firearms
← National, uniformed and strict firearms laws
Felling of being disenfranchised





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