Why is it so difficult to prosecute returning fighters?



File 20170602 25658 1littd8
Mosul, in Iraq, is one of two declared ‘no-go’ zones.
Reuters/Alaa Al-Marjani

Keiran Hardy, Griffith University

As the terrorist organisation Islamic State (IS) suffers further losses in Syria and Iraq, increasing numbers of Australians fighting in those conflicts will likely seek to return home. Around 100 Australians are fighting with IS in the Middle East, and around 40 have already returned.

Reports that only two of these 40 fighters have been prosecuted on return are concerning. This suggests there are serious deficiencies in the government’s ability to successfully prosecute fighters returning from these foreign war zones.

This is despite recent changes to the law in which the federal parliament strengthened many foreign incursion offences. It is an offence for a person to enter a foreign country with intent to engage in hostile activity, or even to prepare to do so. Both these offences are punishable by life imprisonment.

So what makes it so difficult to prosecute returning foreign fighters? And what other options are available?

Foreign evidence

When police investigate a terrorism plot within Australia, they can collect a wide range of evidence to later prove terrorism offences in the courtroom.

Depending on what an investigation uncovers, this evidence can include weapons and ammunition, extremist material stored on CDs and computer hard drives, and bomb-making materials.

A significant category of evidence used in terrorism trials is transcripts of conversations that Australian police or intelligence agencies have covertly recorded. The statements of witnesses, including undercover intelligence officers, can also be used to prove a person’s guilt.

In theory, similar kinds of evidence could be obtained from overseas and used in an Australian courtroom. Amendments made in 2014 to the Foreign Evidence Act allow for foreign evidence to be adduced in terrorism trials, provided the evidence would not have a “substantial adverse” impact on the ability of the accused to receive a fair trial.

Foreign evidence will not be admissible if the judge is satisfied it was obtained through torture or duress.
In reality, collecting evidence in a foreign war zone is near impossible. Ordinarily, evidence could be provided to the Australian government by a foreign authority, collected through a joint operation with a foreign police service, or recorded on surveillance devices with the consent of an appropriate foreign official.

Syria and Iraq remain in a serious state of armed conflict and lack the governance structures for these to be realistic possibilities.

Another obstacle is that much of the information about Australians fighting overseas comes from foreign intelligence services, including the UK’s MI6 and the US Central Intelligence Agency. Conditions imposed on the sharing of this material mean the vast majority of it cannot be used as evidence in case it is exposed in open court.

Witness statements could be used to support claims of Australians engaging in terrorism overseas, but unless these are from reliable eyewitnesses, much of this could be excluded as hearsay.

In short, in the absence of an admission, confession or guilty plea, it is likely to prove extremely difficult to prosecute fighters returning from Syria and Iraq.

Declared area offence

The most viable option would be to prosecute a returning foreign fighter for entering or remaining in a declared area. This offence, punishable by ten years’ imprisonment, was introduced in 2014. It does not require proof that an individual engaged in hostile activity. It merely requires that the person was present in an area that the foreign minister has declared a “no-go” zone.

Currently, the only declared areas are al-Raqqa province in Syria and the city of Mosul in Iraq. It may still be very difficult to prove that a fighter was in one of these areas. It is possible that video evidence could provide proof, if somebody happened to film a fighter in a recognisable location and the footage was posted online or could otherwise be reliably obtained.

What other options are available?

The difficulties in prosecuting returning foreign fighters does not mean Australia faces a “deluge” of foreign fighters “roaming free” without consequence. Many more may still be killed overseas, and others may choose not to return.

At a minimum, those who do return will be subject to close scrutiny and surveillance by ASIO and the Australian Federal Police. If their behaviour becomes criminal – and there is a long list of broad terrorism offences – prosecution could become viable.

Returning foreign fighters may also be subject to control orders. These court-imposed orders enforce requirements such as abiding by a curfew, reporting regularly to police, and wearing an electronic monitoring bracelet.

A control order does not require proof that a person has committed a criminal offence. If a person breaches the conditions of an order, they will face five years in prison.

Australian police and intelligence agencies will explore these and other possibilities to ensure returning foreign fighters do not cause harm to the community. It is possible that prosecution may still be the intended strategy in many cases. But it takes time to build a solid case given the difficulties of gathering evidence.

Even so, the apparent challenges with prosecution suggest that returning fighters will pose a difficult security challenge for Australia in coming years. Surveillance of large numbers of returning fighters will be expensive and require significant resources, so this is not a realistic long-term solution.

The ConversationThese difficulties also demonstrate the limits in continually responding to terrorism with ever-stronger counter-terrorism powers. Many of the laws now proving difficult to prosecute were framed by the Abbott government as an urgent and necessary response to terrorism.

Keiran Hardy, Lecturer, School of Criminology and Criminal Justice and Member, Griffith Criminology Institute, Griffith University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Carnage at Ariana Grande concert in Manchester a suspected terrorist attack



File 20170523 8900 12sda7g
A young woman sits on the ground as police guard the area following the explosion at a Manchester concert.
EPA

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

The pattern has become all too familiar. Young people gathered for a musical event find themselves subjected to what British Prime Minister Theresa May has described as an “appalling terrorist attack”. The Conversation

While there is no confirmation as yet this was a terrorist-inspired incident, police suspect the Manchester attack, which has so far killed 22 people and injured 59 others, was caused either by a bomb contained in an abandoned backpack, or was the work of a suicide bomber.

At this stage no group has claimed responsibility. But it is not being overlooked that last week Islamic State released a 44-minute video in which fighters of different nationalities urged their supporters back home to carry out acts of violence.

Among those featured was a British man.

What makes Islamic State more dangerous – even desperate – in the current climate is that it finds itself under enormous pressure in its strongholds in Iraq and in Syria. Its grip on the northern Iraqi city of Mosul is slipping, and it is under threat in its Syrian redoubt of Raqqa.

It is important not to jump to conclusions about the identity of those responsible. However, whatever judgements might be made about the carnage at a Manchester music hall, this latest bombing underscores the vulnerability of European cities to such acts of violence.

Underscoring the deep-seated shock this will be causing in Britain is that this is the worst terrorism-related episode since the 2005 public transport bombings in London in which 52 people died.

Since 2015, more than half-a-dozen terrorist attacks have been carried out in various European locations, including France, Germany, Belgium and Britain, and in the case of several of these countries there have been multiple incidents.

What the governments of Europe have on their hands are threats to personal security that can strike at any time and in any place, as various terrorist incidents in the past year or so have demonstrated.

This poses an enormous challenge to security agencies, including the police, and, in the case of Britain, MI5, the spy agency responsible for internal security.

Such random acts of terrorism are enormously difficult, if not impossible, to counter unless open societies are subjected to security measures that most citizens would find difficult to accept.

If it proves to be the case the Manchester bombing was carried out by a sole suicide bomber, or a bomb-laden backpack placed strategically, this would underscore difficulties in policing a musical event in which large numbers of people gather in a specific location.

While France has been the main victim of a wave of terrorism in the past several years, Britain is running second.

In the most recent incident prior to the Manchester bombing, the driver of a vehicle mowed down pedestrians on Westminster Bridge and then shot a policeman outside the Houses of Parliament.

The concert hall attack in Manchester recalls a similar episode in Paris at a the Bataclan concert hall in November 2015 when shootings caused multiple deaths.

Islamic State claimed responsibility on that occasion.

What is adding to political complexities of the Manchester bombing is that it comes in the middle of a British election campaign in which immigration and Britain’s withdrawal from Europe are central questions.

How this will play out in the next days and weeks is difficult to assess, but as a rule of thumb such incidents would be more likely to benefit the parties of the right than the left.

On the other hand, governments in power and therefore responsible for security inevitably face awkward questions about levels of preparedness for such terrorist incidents, if indeed that is what we are talking about in the case of the Manchester bombing.

Terrorist violence is now baked into the European landscape. It is hard to see an end to this.

* Note: This story has been updated to reflect the latest information on fatalities.

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Anti-Chinese and anti-Christian sentiment is not new in Indonesia


Olivia Tasevski, University of Melbourne

Racial and religious prejudice faced by the outgoing Chinese-Indonesian governor of Jakarta, now imprisoned for blasphemy, is not a new phenomenon in Indonesia. Ethnic Chinese and Christians in Indonesia have endured systematic and long-standing discrimination throughout the nation’s history. The Conversation

Earlier this month, the former governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known as Ahok, was sentenced to two years in prison for blasphemy.

This conviction follows his defeat in last month’s Jakarta gubernatorial election to a Muslim candidate, former Indonesian government minister Anies Baswedan. Ahok’s opponents ran a campaign against him based on ethnic and religious grounds.

The campaign against Ahok

Ahok acquired the position of Jakarta governor by default. He was deputy governor to Joko Widodo, who vacated the governorship after winning the 2014 Indonesian presidential election.

At an election campaign event last year, Ahok told his audience that religious leaders who were using an interpretation of a verse of the Quran against him were fooling Indonesians. These religious leaders interpreted Verse 51 of Al-Maidah as prohibiting non-Muslims ruling over Muslims.

Large protests demanding Ahok be jailed for blasphemy ensued. These were also laden with anti-Chinese slogans. For example, at a November 16 rally, some protesters chanted “crush the Chinese”.

The Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), an Islamic vigilante group, organised some of these rallies. At one protest, FPI leader Rizieq Shihab asked protesters “would you accept an infidel as governor [of Jakarta]?” – a clear reference to Ahok.

Rizieq’s comment is unsurprising. The FPI consistently opposed Ahok serving as Jakarta’s acting governor due to his non-Muslim background.

During the election campaign, anti-Christian posters and banners could be seen in the streets of Jakarta. One such poster read “it is forbidden to pick an infidel leader”. Another banner stated that “Muslims who vote for an infidel [Ahok] … do not deserve a funeral prayer”.

Discrimination against Chinese Indonesians

Chinese-Indonesians, representing approximately 2% of Indonesia’s population of 250 million, experienced widespread discrimination during the Soeharto era (1966-98).

Soeharto’s regime banned Chinese language, newspapers, schools and cultural expressions. Chinese names were also prohibited. As a result, Chinese Indonesians were pressured to take Indonesian names.

In May 1998, during the devastating Asian Financial Crisis, Indonesians directed their anger against ethnic Chinese who they inaccurately perceived to be universally affluent. Rioters damaged Chinese Indonesians’ businesses in Jakarta’s Chinatown, Glodok, and in some cases burned them. During this period, many ethnic Chinese women were raped and some ethnic Chinese were killed.

Under Abdurrahman Wahid’s administration (1999-2001), Indonesia ended the ban on Chinese language, newspapers, schools and displays of Chinese culture. But discrimination against Chinese-Indonesians remains.

A 1967 decree prohibiting Chinese Indonesians from serving in the Indonesian armed forces remains in place. And, unlike non-Chinese Indonesians, Chinese-Indonesians possess an SBKRI, a document that proves their Indonesian citizenship. This document is still sometimes required for Chinese-Indonesians to obtain passports, enrol in schools and acquire business licences.

Discrimination against Christians in Indonesia

Ahok is part of two minority groups in Indonesia. Christian Indonesians comprise roughly 10% of Indonesia’s population. They, too, have been discriminated against throughout Indonesia’s history.

Since 2006, 500 Christian churches have been shut down in Indonesia. Some Islamists have been using a 2006 government regulation, which requires religious leaders to obtain community support prior to building places of worship, to demand church closures.

Discrimination against Christians also occurred during the Soeharto era. In 1967, Muslim militants damaged Christians’ properties in Jakarta, South Sulawesi and Aceh on the grounds of fighting Indonesia’s purported Christianisation.

Where to from here?

Following his election victory, Anies Baswedan publicly pledged as the incoming Jakarta governor to “safeguard [Jakarta’s] diversity and unity”.

However, to ensure Indonesia remains an inclusive democracy, Anies needs to go further than this. He should directly denounce the ethnic and religious campaign mounted against Ahok, notably by the FPI.

Furthermore, Jokowi’s administration needs to dismantle Soeharto-era discriminatory regulations and policies against ethnic Chinese.

If Anies fails to denounce the ethnic and religious campaign against Ahok and Jokowi does not attempt to remove anti-Chinese laws and regulations, Indonesia’s history of discrimination against Chinese and Christian Indonesians will continue to repeat itself.

Olivia Tasevski, Tutor in International Relations and Political Science, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The tragedy of Mosul: battle against Islamic State is leading to all-too-familiar consequences



Image 20170330 30365 12e5mmy
Mosul’s residents are caught between Islamic State’s brutal violence and the amassed firepower of the Iraqi armed forces and their international backers.
Reuters/Khalid Al Mousily

Damian Doyle, Australian National University and Tristan Dunning, The University of Queensland

A tragedy is unfolding in Mosul, the northern Iraqi city that Islamic State (IS) has brutally occupied since June 2014. The Conversation

Airstrikes conducted by the international coalition have killed more than 300 civilians in the course of a few weeks. And an investigation is under way to determine who is to blame for more than 200 deaths in Mosul’s al-Jadida neighbourhood on March 17. This is the most deadly event in the battle for Mosul so far.

Given the carnage this one attack caused, it is perhaps unsurprising that local sources put the kill count much higher. Bassma Bassim, head of the Mosul District Council, claimed airstrikes killed “more than 500” civilians in one week in March alone.

All too familiar

The spike in civilian deaths during February and March has been so dramatic it has prompted speculation that the US military has changed its rules of engagement. It has also sparked debate about whether deaths caused by the West are held to a different standard than those caused by countries like Russia.

Long-time Middle East journalist Patrick Cockburn argues the West vehemently denounced Russia and Syria for alleged war crimes for indiscriminate bombing of densely populated areas during the siege of Aleppo, while hypocritically engaging in similar activities in Mosul at the same time.

The result has been the same. Scores of civilians have been killed in their homes or crushed beneath the rubble of supposed bomb shelters. This has led Amnesty to suggest the coalition is violating international humanitarian law in its campaign in Mosul.

It is not the first time Western airstrikes have killed Iraqis at the same time as Western politicians have claimed to be saving Iraq. But the deaths in Mosul on March 17 – a day after the anniversary of the 1988 Halabja chemical weapons massacre – will add another tragic anniversary to Iraq’s already overloaded memorial calendar.

Mosul’s residents are caught between the brutal violence of IS, which hides among civilians and uses them as human shields, and the amassed firepower of the Iraqi armed forces and their international backers. As one Mosul resident put it:

We are like the wheat between the millstones. They are killing us.

Similarly, the destruction caused by airstrikes have left some Mosul residents wondering whether the putative cure is any better than the disease. One local expressed his view that:

After watching what happened here, I really believe now that the US and Daesh [IS] are a team, working together to destroy our country.

Such sentiments do not bode well for national reconciliation and the reintegration of those who have lived under IS rule.

Wider social and humanitarian crisis

Since it began in October 2016, the fight to liberate Mosul from IS has created a humanitarian crisis which is further straining Iraqi and international resources. It has caused mass displacement, destruction and trauma.

For the 190,000 Iraqis who have been displaced by the Mosul campaign, the most immediate needs are shelter, protection and food security. The UN is concerned that up to 450,000 displaced people will soon need shelter in camps established near Mosul. It expects 3 to 4 million will remain homeless if and when the fighting finally ends.

Longer term, there will be a need for individual and community healing. Mosul residents have described an IS regime of brutality, propaganda and intimidation. Minority groups have been massacred. Women have been forced into sex slavery. Children have been exposed to brutal violence.

These experiences will leave deep scars and social divisions. Reconciliation will be complex and painful. National political leaders have already found themselves at loggerheads about the shape reconciliation might take.

Years of corruption, which undermines effective service delivery, has eroded the government’s capacity to deal with a new generation of traumatised Iraqis. International support will be vital. But the present UN High Commissioner for Refugees has received only 4% of the funding requested.

The fighting in Mosul has displaced 190,000 Iraqis.
Reuters/Youssef Boudlal

New vulnerabilities

The impacts of Mosul’s brutal occupation and painful liberation are compounding Iraq’s seemingly endless list of social and economic problems.

Displaced people face difficulties when they try to return home. Returning Mosul residents have to contend with shortages of water, electricity and employment opportunities.

Large amounts of money are needed for reconstruction and to breathe life back into services. The Iraqi government, faced with a looming financial crisis, will rely on international loans for this.

Mosul will remain insecure and dangerous for some time. Problems will persist after liberation including traps, infiltrators and sleepers, and the confusion and fear these tactics create. As in other post-IS cities, various non-state armed groups may play a role in providing security. This creates the potential for new conflicts.

At the same time, IS tactics will continue to evolve – shifting emphasis from territorial control to guerrilla warfare and terrorist bombings – so it can keep killing Iraqis, target vulnerable communities to stoke religious and ethnic tensions, and try to undermine the Iraqi government’s legitimacy.

The tragedy

For the past few weeks, Iraqis have used the social media hashtag #مأساة_الموصل, masat al-Mosul – “the tragedy of Mosul” – to share news reports and images from Mosul and surrounding areas.

It has also been used to request donations to various relief efforts for displaced people, often accompanying photos of volunteers and their supplies.

There is no equivalent hashtag in English. This is a small but telling reflection of Western indifference to Iraqi civilian deaths and international news media priorities.

The tragedy of Mosul is that while IS’s territorial project in Iraq is coming to an end, it is creating new problems – destruction, displacement, trauma – that exacerbate the country’s existing challenges.

The West must acknowledge its role in stoking this crisis, just as Russia and Iran have been responsible for suffering in Syria. Mosul, it seems, is the West’s Aleppo.

Damian Doyle, PhD Candidate, Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies, Australian National University and Tristan Dunning, School of Political Science and International Studies, School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Indonesia: Persecution News Update


The link below is to an article reporting on persecution news from Indonesia.

For more visit:
http://christiannews.net/2017/03/29/muslim-extremists-increase-pressure-on-indonesian-christians/

Terror in London: Western cities will always be vulnerable to these attacks



Image 20170323 25768 1sv1rig
Five people are dead – including the perpetrator – following a terror attack in London.
EPA/Andy Rain

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Just when the Western world had absorbed the shock of a truck attack in Berlin in December that claimed 12 lives, it is reminded again of the dangers of “lone-wolf” attacks inspired by Islamic State (IS) that are almost impossible to guard against. The Conversation

When a sole attacker drove randomly across London’s Westminster Bridge towards the Houses of Parliament – one of the most trafficked thoroughfares in the Western world – killing and maiming innocent bystanders, it served as a reminder, if that were required, that open, global cities are vulnerable to such attacks.

These are moments that serve as a reality check for those in authority who are striving to maintain a balance between oppressive policing and surveillance and a free society. This is enormously challenging in an environment in which strains of fanaticism have been let loose.

Regrettably, the London terrorist attack leading to five deaths, including the perpetrator and a policeman, will find its way into a racially tinged political discourse – and not in a way that will be particularly edifying.

But there is also no point in pretending that mayhem in the Middle East can be separated from what takes place on the streets of London or Brussels or Berlin or Nice, or in other places that become victims of continuing upheaval in a crescent that stretches from the Mediterranean to South Asia.

Now that the weapon of choice for lone-wolf terrorists seems to have become a vehicle to mow down people innocently going about their business, a policing task becomes even more difficult.

Peter Bergen, a terrorism expert, noted in a post for CNN that as long ago as 2010, al Qaeda’s Yemen branch had encouraged its recruits in the West to use vehicles as weapons.

A headline on its webzine, Inspire, had described vehicles as “the ultimate mowing nachine” – not to “mow grass, but mow down the enemies of Allah”. He wrote:

These attacks are hard to defend against in free societies where crowds will gather, as was the case for Bastille Day in Nice, or the Christmas market in Berlin … and now throngs of tourists and visitors that typically crowd the sidewalks around the Houses of Parliament.

The utter cynicism and brutality of these random low-tech attacks pose enormous challenges for security.

This latest episode will not be the last such vehicle attack with the possibility that something much worse might eventuate, including the detonation of a truck packed with explosives and shards of shrapnel. Open Western cities will always be vulnerable to these sorts of attacks.

The threat of IS-inspired terrorism is now embedded in Western societies. It is no good pretending it is not.

Since 2014, when IS proclaimed its caliphate, there have been more than 70 terrorist attacks “conducted or inspired” by its followers in 20 countries (not including Syria and Iraq), according to a running total kept by CNN.

If Syria and Iraq were added, such terrorist attacks would number in the hundreds.

In 2014, CNN lists seven terrorist incidents, including the stabbing of two Australian police officers in New South Wales. Six died and 12 were injured in 2014, in Belgium, Australia, Canada, the US and France.

That was the beginning.

By 2016, the numbers of casualties from IS-inspired terrorism had risen sharply across the Middle East and in Europe. This included the Brussels bombings at a metro station and an airport, in which 32 people died and 340 were injured.

It is not least of macabre coincidences that the London terrorist attack occurred on the first anniversary to the day of the Brussels bombings.

So far this year, there have been five major incidents. Most, if not all, are linked to IS.

London was the first such episode in continental Europe. The others occurred in Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

Out of all this, it is a depressing conclusion, but as IS in its strongholds in Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria is further degraded, chances are it will step up its terrorist activities elsewhere.

In other words, risks to countries involved in the war against IS will rise as its fortunes in its so-called caliphate slide. IS is on the ropes in its Middle Eastern strongholds. This makes it more dangerous to Western interests.

In London, and among Britain’s allies, political leaders have hastened to express solidarity, but all would be aware that such ritualistic professions of support and concern will not provide a foolproof shield against the next Islamist-inspired terrorist attack.

The question is not if, but when and where.

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.