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Australian Government - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Advancing the interests of Australia and Australians internationally

Australian Government - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Advancing the interests of Australia and Australians internationally

Transnational Terrorism: The Threat to Australia

Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 2004

ISBN 1 920959 04 1

Chapter 8


The longer term presents Australia with greater uncertainties and potentially greater danger. The extremist message will continue to resonate and inspire terrorist attacks, and our counter-terrorism strategies must allow for this. They will require constant review and adjustment in line with the evolving nature of the terrorist threat. Flexibility will be important. Complacency must not be allowed to prevail.

The longer term offers us opportunities for proactive forms of intervention. We need to counter the appeal of extremists and encourage alternative, more constructive approaches. And we need to break down the conditions in which extremism and terrorism can prosper.

The battle of ideas

The campaign against transnational extremist-Muslim terrorism involves a contest of ideas. This is a complex problem because it engages not only reason but religious faith.

Usama Bin Laden and his fellow Muslim extremists seek to justify their terrorist attacks on religious grounds. Their ideology lies at the heart of the current international terrorist threat facing the world. They do not seek compromise; they advocate violence as the means of achieving their aims.

We must challenge the ideas terrorists use to justify their actions. In so doing, we must always draw clear distinctions between terrorism that seeks to exploit Muslim populations on the one hand and Islam itself on the other.

Many leading Muslims around the world and in Australia have condemned terrorism unequivocally. Australia will continue to support Muslims as they seek to isolate those extremists who advocate transnational terrorism. But the battle of ideas will continue to be fought primarily within the Muslim world.

In defending our values, we must make it clear that we will not resile from our commitment to tolerance, openness, freedom and equality. We must not let the terrorists turn Australians against each other. The government will continue to make it clear that this is not a campaign against Muslims or against Islam. There is a clear distinction between the vast majority of moderate and tolerant Muslims and the tiny minority who carry out acts of terrorism in the name of Islam.

The rest of Australian society, too, has a vital role to play in protecting and upholding our values. We need to lead by example and show tolerance, understanding and respect for the members of Australia's Muslim community. All Australians must be able to participate in our society without fear or prejudice.

Internationally, the government is building bridges of understanding. It is working to prevent the growth of mistrust based on misunderstanding and on propaganda that seeks to drive a wedge between the Muslim world and the West. The government is deepening its engagement with mainstream Islamic organisations in the region. These organisations play a critical role as advocates of democracy and pluralism, and providers of education and health services.

Group with Mr Downer

Mr Hasyim Muzadi (left centre), the Chairman of Indonesia's largest Islamic organisation, Nahdatul Ulama (NU) meeting the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Downer (right centre), February 2003 (Photo: AUSPIC)

As part of this broader engagement program, in 2003 the government hosted visits by the leaders of Indonesia's two largest Islamic groups, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah. It has also established a Muslim exchange program and brought Islamic scholars to Australia. The Australia - Indonesia Institute is taking an active role in promoting understanding through its Inter-faith Program, which encourages contact between our countries' Islamic and Christian organisations. And the Council for Australian - Arab Relations is promoting economic, political, social and cultural links with Arab countries.

The fuel for extremism

Our counter-terrorist response must be cognisant of the complexities that drive this form of transnational terrorism. They can range from specific incidents to broad global trends. Often they are unique to the individual concerned.

The government does not accept, however, that the various forces behind extremist violence can ever provide justification for acts of terrorism. Deliberate, premeditated killing or injury of innocent people must always be condemned.

There is no clear evidence directly linking the evolution of this new terrorism to issues like poverty or educational disadvantage. A number of the leaders of Al Qaida and Jemaah Islamiyah come from relatively affluent and privileged backgrounds, as did all of the September 11 hijackers. Many terrorist recruits are relatively well educated. Transnational terrorism undermines the aspirations of people everywhere to live more secure and more prosperous lives.

The notion of 'root causes' is misleading. It implies there is something we can offer or correct to mitigate the threat. But Bin Laden and his ilk are not seeking remedy or compromise, only subjugation to their views.

Nor should the shock of being targeted in this way lead us to assume some degree of blame for the terrorists' desperation. These terrorists are opportunistic in invoking popular concerns to rally people to their cause. These concerns should not be confused with the terrorists' real political goals or ideology.

The government recognises the need to de-legitimise terrorism in the eyes of those prepared to give terrorists the benefit of the doubt. Where possible, this can be done by addressing the grievances invoked as rallying cries. This can deny the terrorists' ability to cloak their actions in false legitimacy.

The government is committed to playing its part as a member of the international community to address, where it can, the economic, social and political factors that create the conditions in which extremism can take root and flourish. These are fundamental matters of international concern that extend beyond the issue of terrorism. They include poverty and inequality, the lack of education and economic opportunities, political alienation, and broader state or inter-state conflicts.

There is no doubt that a range of concerns - including the situation in the Palestinian territories - are felt deeply, including in Muslim communities. The government continues to support a comprehensive and lasting settlement to the Israel - Palestine conflict, reached through negotiations between the parties, that results in two states living side-by-side in peace and security.

The government also recognises that other local conflicts involving Muslim communities can become fertile sources of recruits for terrorist networks. The terrorists argue that these conflicts are all part of the Western world's campaign against Islam. They use them to convince Muslim militants that their local struggles are therefore part of a global war against the West. Australia supports relevant governments' efforts to deal with these internal conflicts quickly yet sensitively so that they do not become new terrorist theatres.

The government is working closely with developing countries in the region to help them tap into the economic opportunities thrown up by globalisation. Our trade, development cooperation and other programs are being used for this purpose. Open economies, strong institutions, sound governance and effective education systems are all critical to a country's ability to participate fully in the global marketplace, and to translate that participation into jobs and wealth for its citizens.

The government will spend around $670 million in support of governance programs in the region in 2004 - 05. These programs are aimed at strengthening police and judicial systems, improving financial management, and developing transparent and accountable institutions of government and public administration. Programs that improve access to quality education and health care, and which support the development of robust civil societies, also help reduce the prospect of people embracing extremist views. Our sustained development cooperation assistance to peace and development in Mindanao in the southern Philippines is part of Australia's multifaceted response to a socio-economic environment that has been exploited by terrorists.

Promoting a global culture that respects the most basic human rights is another dimension of Australia's international effort to counter the appeal of extremists. A robust human rights culture will help undermine the credibility of, and weaken public sympathy for, terrorist groups. Australia pursues this objective through multilateral human rights forums, including the UN Commission on Human Rights, and regional human rights mechanisms. Through its Human Rights Small Grants Scheme, the government funds activities in countries in our region designed to protect and promote human rights at the grass roots level. Human rights education, awareness raising and promoting democratic values are key goals of this scheme, all of which help develop a human rights culture.

Failed and failing states

Stronger measures are required for failed and failing states, not only to assist their recovery but to avoid any risk to international security. The establishment of terrorist bases, the laundering of money, the procurement of false documents, and the trafficking of weapons are easier in a state whose legal, political and governance systems are weak or have failed to operate. The UN, through its peace-keeping and other functions, has traditionally played a key role in shoring up failing states. Australia has made a substantial contribution to UN peace-keeping efforts over a number of years and it is likely that we will continue to be called upon to play that role.

State failure cannot be ignored or viewed simply as an issue of local concern. States at risk of failure need to be identified quickly and action taken to head off collapse. Afghanistan is a good example of what can go wrong. The civil war in Afghanistan left the country devoid of effective governance and created the conditions that allowed the Taliban to come to power. While initially establishing a semblance of stability, the Taliban's sympathy towards Al Qaida's extreme interpretation of Islam combined with personal connections to Al Qaida's leadership and weak government institutions enabled Al Qaida to establish bases in Afghanistan.

Australia joined the campaign to defeat Al Qaida and its Taliban sponsors, clearing the way for the social, economic and political rehabilitation of Afghanistan. Since September 2001, Australia has contributed $110 million in aid of humanitarian and recovery efforts in Afghanistan. The government is committed to continuing its support for Afghanistan's reconstruction and to helping it become a viable state again. A little more than two years after the removal of the Taliban regime a lot has been accomplished, but the country remains fragile, both politically and economically.

It is imperative that Iraq does not become a failed state and a haven for terrorists. Iraq as a failed state would constitute a source of instability in a region of considerable strategic and economic importance to Australia. The Middle East is a significant market for Australian exports and the region's role as a major oil exporter makes it an important contributor to the global economy.

Tanya McQueen

AusAID-funded Australian volunteer, Tanya McQueen (centre), assisting at a malnutrition relief centre in Afghanistan (Photo: AusAID/Peter Bussian)

Australia joined the Coalition that took military action in March 2003 to enforce the UN Security Council resolutions flouted by Saddam's regime. In the period following the end of major combat operations, Australia has been committed to helping Iraq achieve the stability needed to underpin its political transition and economic recovery. ADF personnel have undertaken a range of functions, including helping to train Iraqi army and navy personnel. Australia is one of over 30 countries maintaining a military presence in Iraq as part of the Multinational Force mandated by the UN Security Council. Two AFP officers are also assisting an international effort to train Iraq's new police force.

The UN is centrally involved in Iraq's political transition. UN Special Adviser, Ambassador Lakhdar Brahimi, helped establish the Iraq Interim Government which assumed authority for Iraq on 28 June 2004. UN experts are also assisting with preparations for crucial elections to be held in January 2005.

The government is supporting Iraq's economic and social rehabilitation and has committed $120 million to aid humanitarian and reconstruction efforts. The focus of Australian support is on areas where we have particular expertise such as agriculture, economic management, governance and donor coordination. The Iraqi people are now firmly taking the lead in efforts to restore their country's future. But they will require sustained commitment from the United States, the diverse Coalition it leads, and the wider international community in facing the challenges ahead.

Closer to home, instability and poor governance directly threaten the prospects for growth, prosperity and development of many countries in our region and have the potential to undermine Australia's security. The Pacific is a region of particular interest and concern for us. What happens in the Pacific affects our strategic and security interests. International terrorism has sharpened our focus on this linkage and has led Australia to get more directly involved in the region.

Australia is playing a leading role in efforts to avert the prospects of state failure and institutional weakness in the Pacific islands. The Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) followed a request for assistance from the Solomon Islands Government and reflects the Australian Government's willingness to act decisively to strengthen governance and institutions when they are seen to falter. RAMSI is a large- scale and costly undertaking for Australia. But it is a job that needed to be done and the government is prepared for the long-term commitment that it involves.

Ben McDevitt and Paul Tovua

RAMSI Police Force Commander, Ben McDevitt, and Solomon Islands National Peace Council Chair, Paul Tovua, display a collection of weapons handed in to police (Photo: Brian Hartigan, Australian Federal Police)

Before RAMSI arrived in July 2003, Solomon Islands was on the path to state failure. Our initial police, defence and administrative contributions were successful in restoring law and order. They ensured that the government was able to function, averting any immediate threat of state failure. Over 3700 weapons have been confiscated, a police presence established across the country, and key ex-militants and corrupt police arrested. The focus of RAMSI is now shifting to building long-term administrative capacity and tackling difficult issues such as corruption.

The Solomon Islands mission is consistent with Australia's broader commitment to helping Pacific island countries improve their prospects for security and prosperity. The government has agreed to a major program of enhanced engagement with Papua New Guinea, designed to deal with security and governance concerns that are impeding its strong development. In addition to bolstering our own security, these interventions help deter international terrorist groups from exploiting the island countries.

An investment in our future

Australia's counter-terrorism campaign is resource intensive. Because it is complex, multifaceted and enduring, it demands resources from across the community and from all levels of government. Our commitments are wide-ranging.

The terrorists are adaptable and lethal and the terrorist environment is changing rapidly, so we must plan for diverse threats. We must come to grips with this complex environment so that our people and agencies can operate and react quickly to the unforeseen. Above all, we must be prepared to be adaptable, imaginative, resilient and forceful in our response to terrorism.

The government is committed to dedicating the resources to defend Australia and its global interests. These include intelligence and law enforcement activities, border protection, transport security, finances, diplomatic efforts, military commitments, humanitarian assistance, energy and national will. We can neither contemplate nor afford failure.

Australia is well equipped to meet the terrorist challenge. We have substantial national resources, including economic, social and intellectual wealth. Our intelligence, law enforcement and defence services are of the highest standard. Our arms of government are responsive and flexible. We will continue to work closely with our allies and partners in the region and elsewhere.

In marshalling our physical resources to fight terrorism we also clarify and reassert our values as a free and democratic country. These values are a pillar of our national security. We derive strength and resilience from our diverse, open and pluralistic society. Our national counter- terrorism policies must embody the values we are seeking to protect, particularly the right of every individual to safety and the freedom to pursue their goals peacefully. Otherwise, our struggle will lose legitimacy and credibility.

Our ability to counter the terrorist threat will be most effective when the people of Australia and their governments - Commonwealth, state and territory - work together. This means all Australians need to understand the nature of the threat and the actions these governments are taking to combat it. The Australian Government will continue to inform, consult and work with the Australian community to ensure a truly united front to this fundamental threat to our national interests.


  • ADF - Australian Defence Force
  • Ansar al Islam - Partisans of Islam - terrorist group based in northern Iraq
  • AFP - Australian Federal Police
  • APEC - Asia - Pacific Economic Cooperation
  • APG - Asia - Pacific Group on Money Laundering
  • API - Advanced Passenger Information System
  • ARF - ASEAN Regional Forum
  • ASG - Abu Sayyaf Group
  • ASIO - Australian Security Intelligence Organisation
  • ASIS - Australian Secret Intelligence Service
  • ASO - Air Security Officer
  • ASEAN - Association of South-East Asian Nations
  • AusAID - Australian Agency for International Development
  • AUSTRAC - Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre
  • Balik Islam - 'returned to Islam' - Term used in the Philippines to describe converts to Islam
  • BRN - Barisan Revolusi Nasional - National Revolutionary Front - Thailand
  • CBRN - Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear
  • CERT - Computer Emergency Response Team
  • CTAG - G8 Counter-Terrorism Action Group CTC Counter-Terrorism Committee of the UN
  • DFAT - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
  • DI - Darul Islam - House of Islam - Indonesian Muslim separatist group
  • DIGO - Defence Imagery and Geospatial Organisation
  • DIO - Defence Intelligence Organisation
  • DSD - Defence Signals Directorate
  • EMA - Emergency Management Australia
  • FATF - Financial Action Task Force FIST Financial Intelligence Support Team
  • FIU - Financial Intelligence Unit
  • GAM - Gerakan Aceh Merdeka - Free Aceh Movement - Indonesian separatist movement
  • GMIP- Gerakan Mujahidin Islam Pattani - Pattani Islamic Mujahideen Movement
  • G8 - Group of Eight (United States, United Kingdom, Russia, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and Canada)
  • ICAO - International Civil Aviation Organization IMF International Monetary Fund
  • IMO - International Maritime Organisation
  • JCLEC - Jakarta Centre for Law Enforcement Cooperation JI Jemaah Islamiyah - South-East Asian extremist-Muslim terrorist group
  • KMM - Kumpulan Militan Malaysia - Malaysian militant group
  • Laskar Jihad - Warriors of Jihad - Indonesian extremist movement
  • Laskar Jundullah - Warriors of the Army of God - Indonesian extremist movement
  • LeT - Lashkar e-Tayyiba - Warriors of Righteousness - Pakistani/Kashmiri terrorist group
  • Madrassa - Religious school
  • MAK - Maktab al Khidamat - services office
  • MANPADS - Man-portable air defence systems
  • MILF - Moro Islamic Liberation Front
  • MNLF - Moro National Liberation Front
  • Muhammadiyah - Indonesian Muslim organisation
  • Mujahideen - Literally 'those who engage in jihad' (that is, militant jihad)
  • Mujahidin KOMPAK - Mujahidin Komite Aksi Penanggulangan Akibat Krisis - Warriors of the Crisis Response Committee
  • Nahdlatul Ulama - Indonesian Muslim organisation
  • NTAC - National Threat Assessment Centre Pesantren Community-run Islamic boarding school
  • PIF - Pacific Islands Forum
  • PSI - Proliferation Security Initiative
  • PULO - Pattani United Liberation Organisation
  • RAMSI - Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands
  • RSO - Rohingya Solidarity Organisation
  • SEARCCT - South-East Asia Regional Center for Counter-Terrorism
  • STAR - Secure Trade in the APEC Region
  • WMD - Weapons of Mass Destruction
  • Zarqawi network - A Middle East-based terrorist network led by Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade