Two Australian Teenage Brothers Stopped at Sydney Airport en-route to ISIS Middle East Conflict ZonePosted: March 8th, 2015 | Author: M.Aaron Silverman | Filed under: CRIME!, News | Tags: Arab Awakening, Arab Spring, Crime, Foreign Fighters Bill, IS, ISIS, Middle East, Syria | Comments Off on Two Australian Teenage Brothers Stopped at Sydney Airport en-route to ISIS Middle East Conflict Zone
The Australian Government is crowing the work of Customs and Border Protection officers who intercepted two Sydney teenage brothers, believed to be travelling to conflict zones in the Middle East.
The 16 and 17-year-olds came to the attention of Customs officers at Sydney Airport on Friday. The pair had return tickets to an undisclosed destination in the Middle East and a search of their luggage raised further suspicions of their intent.
Customs officers determined that they were intending to travel without the knowledge of their parents. The brothers were later allowed to leave the airport with their parents and were issued court attendance notices ::::
Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton said the teenagers were stopped on their way to a potentially very dangerous situation.
“These two young men, aged 16 and 17, are kids, not killers, and they shouldn’t be allowed to go to a foreign land to fight and to come back to our shores eventually more radicalised,” he said.
“In some cases, these young people who are going off to fight in areas like Syria will be killed themselves, and that’s a tragedy for their families, for their communities, and for our country.
“We have to be absolutely determined to stare down this ever increasing threat.”
The Foreign Fighters Bill passed by Parliament last October makes it illegal to travel to areas declared as terrorist zones, without a specific humanitarian or family purpose.
Under the bill, Customs officers are allowed to detain people at the airport if they believe they may be travelling to one of the prohibited areas.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has listed both the province of Al-Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq as off-limits.
Australians found to be illegally visiting the regions could face up to 10 years’ prison.
RELATED! The Road to Radicalisation, Amira Karroum and Tyler Casey: How a young Australian couple came to die in Syria
In January 2014, a young Australian couple was gunned down in Aleppo by rival rebel Syrian forces. Amira Karroum and her husband Tyler Casey were devout Muslims who travelled to Syria to join the global jihad.
But how do a boy from the Brisbane suburbs and a girl from the Gold Coast beaches end up dead in one of the world’s most brutal conflicts? How did a former Gold Coast private schoolgirl come to die in a hail of bullets in Syria?
Amira Karroum’s road to radicalisation began when she moved to western Sydney to live with family members who had embraced radical Islam. She met and married joint US-Australian citizen Tyler Casey, who spent five years as an international Al Qaeda emissary before he joined the Syrian war.
Karroum joined her husband in Syria in January 2014 after leaving Australia under the guise of a trip to visit friends in Denmark.
The pair threw in their lot with the Al Qaeda-linked Jabhat Al Nusra, which was locked in a bitter power struggle with even more hardline ISIS militants. Just days after she arrived in the rebel stronghold of Aleppo, she and Casey were ambushed and executed by ISIS gunmen in their makeshift home.
RELATED! Where Do Foreign Fighters in Iraq and Syria Come From?
The number of foreigners who have travelled to Iraq and Syria to fight has topped 20,000, surpassing the number attracted to Afghanistan in the 1980s, according to the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR).
Centre director Peter Neumann, who has advised the United Nations Security Council on the foreign fighters issue, said the conflict had become a “truly international” fight.
Counting the number of Western fighters was “no exact science”, Professor Neumann said, but his estimates were based on more than 1,500 sources, including media reports, government estimates, social media profiles, statements from jihadist groups, direct interviews and fieldwork.
The 20,000 figure is an estimate of the total number of foreigners who have joined the fight over the course of the conflict, rather than the number currently engaged in Iraq and Syria.
The centre’s research suggested up to one-third of foreign fighters, or nearly 7,000, had already returned to their home countries and between 5 per cent and 10 per cent had been killed.
“There has been actually only one mobilisation of foreign fighters that has been similar, and that is of course the Afghanistan conflict in the 1980s, which has also produced up to 20,000 fighters – albeit over an entire decade, whereas in the case of Syria and Iraq we’re now talking about the same number in just three or four years,” Professor Neumann said in a speech at the London School of Economics.
As with Afghanistan, the current mobilisation would have “long-lasting consequences”, he added.
Where do they come from?
More than half of the foreign fighters who had travelled to Iraq and Syria were from the Middle East, Professor Neumann said.
But recruits from Western Europe had climbed to almost 4,000, with the most populous nations – France, the UK and Germany – producing the largest number of fighters.
However, a number of smaller European countries contributed to the overall totals disproportionately, considering their populations.
“In particular Belgium, for example, which is producing almost as many foreign fighters as Germany or the UK even though it only has a seventh of the population of Germany,” Professor Neumann said.
“And that disproportional contribution is also true for all the Scandinavians countries and for the Netherlands.”
Between 100 and 250 foreign fighters were estimated to have departed from Australia.
Why do they go?
Researchers had examined tens of thousands of statements by foreign fighters, Professor Neumann said, and while there was “no monolith population that is the Western foreign fighter”, a number of similar narratives emerged.
“It is very clear that for a certain demographic of Western foreign fighter — let’s say young males — the notion of adventure is important,” he said.
“The idea of brotherhood, going there, fighting for a good cause, becoming a hero, hanging out with the bros.”
This motivation appeared to be related to masculinity, Professor Neumann said, while others revolved around politics, religion and identity.
“It’s certainly true that in the first phase of the conflict – 2012 and 2013 – a very dominant narrative amongst foreign fighters themselves was the idea of defending your brothers and sisters against what was perceived as an existential threat.
“What was articulated by a lot of the fighters themselves and what came from a lot of radical preachers who were trying to recruit people to go to Syria was this idea that there was a conspiracy – a conspiracy led by Bashar al-Assad, supported by Iran, possibly the Iraqi government and Hezbollah – intent on exterminating the Sunni people of Syria. And there was no lack of evidence to illustrate that – certain people, Sunnis being tortured, being raped, being killed.
“The appeal to Western Muslims was very simple. It was: ‘no-one is helping us, America is not helping us, the West is turning a blind eye because only Muslims are being killed, we need you, we understand you’re studying, you’re working, you have a family, but at this point in time if being Muslim means anything to you, you have to step up and come here and help out and defend your brothers and sisters’.”
Since last June and the emergence of the Islamic State (IS) group, two other themes had emerged among foreign recruits: a fascination with the establishment of a caliphate, and the notion of the West being at war with Islam.
The idea of a caliphate attracted recruits because is was seen as an opportunity to make a long-lasting mark, “a historic project that you could become part of”, Professor Neumann said.
With this message, IS appealed to a more extremist group than the first wave of foreign fighters, Professor Neumann said – those who were ideologically motivated and also some who lacked a strong sense of meaning in their own lives in the West.
Until the international coalition’s campaign against the IS, foreign fighters in Syria had not been registering as a significant motivator, he said. But that had changed.
“That notion of the West at war with Islam has come back and it clearly does energise some people to go over there.”
What role do the internet and social media play?
The internet and social media certainly play a role in recruiting foreign fighters but Professor Neumann said there was “a lot of rubbish” about how important they were.
“The internet and social media are certainly important, especially for ISIS, but their significance can easily be overstated,” he said.
“Nor is the flow of information as centralised and as coordinated as often imagined.”
Personal ties to other people who have joined the fight were a much stronger factor.
“When it comes to recruitment … the internet doesn’t in itself make people go,” Professor Neumann said.
“If it was the internet that made people go, then you would expect the distribution of people going to Syria to be even across the country because the internet is everywhere. The reality is all across Europe you have clusters of people going.”
For example, he said Portsmouth, Cardiff, Brighton and certain parts of London accounted for large numbers of the UK’s foreign fighters, while almost all of Norway’s recruits had left from not only the same town, but the same street.
“Peer-to-peer relations, friends telling friends to go, is still the predominant pattern of recruitments,” he said.
“The internet plays a role in the sense that it enables people to stay in touch with people who are on the frontlines – but it doesn’t play the role that is often portrayed in the media that people see an ISIS video and then the next second they are packing their bags and they are on their way to Syria. That’s absolutely not the way it works.”
The most effective recruiters of foreign fighters were people who had already travelled to fight, Professor Neumann said, with the urge to join the fight spreading among groups of people who had been friends even before the conflict started.
“They create a sense of social obligation. That’s how recruitment happens in I would say 90 per cent of cases.”
What do foreign fighters typically do?
Professor Neumann said people often wondered why extremist groups in Syria and Iraq would want “a fat guy from Luton who doesn’t speak Arabic, who doesn’t have any connection to Syria whatsoever, who doesn’t have military training, who’s not very good at anything”.
While noting that was not the prototypical foreign fighter, he said such recruits had advantages because they became completely dependent on the groups they joined: “They do as they’re told, they don’t speak the language, they don’t know where they are”.
Unless foreign fighters had previous battleground experience, they were often put to work using their own specialist skills; for example, car mechanics, computer experts and writers all could be put to use for the cause.
Those without such skills often had a week’s training and then were asked to stand guard for 15 hours a day, Professor Neumann said.
Foreigners were also those most likely to carry out excessively brutal operations, such as beheadings, torture and suicide missions.
About 70 per cent of IS suicide operations in Syria were conducted by foreigners rather than Syrians, he said.
“When we did fieldwork … they were all telling us that a lot of Syrians are refusing to become involved in these types of operations.”
Are foreign fighters a long-term risk?
Governments and security experts fear that Syria and Iraq, like Afghanistan before them, will produce international networks of people who will be involved in acts of terrorism in the West.
“The good news is a majority will not become terrorists, however given the scale of mobilisation there may still be a threat,” Professor Neumann said.
He cited two “credible, rigorous academic studies” that tracked foreign fighters returning from previous conflicts. One found that one in four returning fighters became involved in domestic acts of terrorism, while the other found the effect was lower, with one in nine conducting attacks.
Adding to the concern, there was strong evidence that foreign fighters made better terrorists.
“There have been a number of studies that have compared terrorist plots that have involved foreign fighters to terror plots that have not involved foreign fighters … it turns out that foreign fighter involvement makes these plots more lethal and more viable, and typically the plots that involve foreign fighters are more complex and they are bigger plots.”
Broadly speaking, Professor Neumann said there were three types of returning foreign fighter: the dangerous (who may pose a threat on their return); the disturbed (who need help more than incarceration); and the disillusioned (most often those who travelled to Iraq and Syria among the first wave of recruits).
“People went over because they wanted to fight against Assad, because they believed the notion of genocide, who do not agree with how the conflict has turned out, and who now feel that they are stuck in Syria without any option of either leaving ISIS or going back to their home countries,” he said.
One such foreign fighter spoke to the ICSR, saying he spoke for 30 fighters. Professor Neumann quoted that fighter as saying: “The truth is many people left to help the Syrian people, then we got labelled as terrorists, now people want to come back not to attack but because they found jihad isn’t what they thought. We all saw videos, they hyped us up, we saw the suffering of the Syrians but right now Muslims are fighting Muslims. Assad’s forgotten about, the whole jihad was turned upside down … I’d come back if they wouldn’t arrest me, yes.”
Governments and security agencies should do what they can to stop foreign fighters from travelling to Iraq and Syria in the first place, Professor Neumann said, by confiscating passports from people who were reasonably suspected.
But in terms of returning fighters a one-dimensional policy could be problematic, he noted, because it prevented people from weakening Islamic State and returning to re-integrate in their home countries.
How can recruits be discouraged?
Professor Neumann said two messages direct from the mouths of foreign fighters might help deter more potential recruits, with a particular focus on the fact was that the experience of foreign fighters once they travel to Syria and Iraq was not universally happy.
Firstly, many fighters went with the intention of helping Syrians but on arrival discovered that Syrians do not like them and do not want them there, he said, leading to disappointment and disillusionment.
Secondly, a lot of in-fighting between different Sunni opposition groups continued in Syria, and the chances of foreign fighters being killed in a feud between those groups were just as high as the chances of being killed fighting the Assad regime.
Convincing concerned people that there were better ways of helping Syrian people would be an effective deterrent, he added.
RELATED! Foreign Fighters Bill Passed by Australian Parliament
October 2013 :: The Federal Government’s controversial Foreign Fighters legislation has been passed by the Parliament. The legislation, which was passed by the Senate on Wednesday, passed the House of Representatives at lunchtime.
The new laws, are designed to stop Australians fighting in overseas conflicts, make it easier for the Government to cancel passports and allow authorities to declare some conflicts as “no go” zones for Australian travellers.
The Government is now planning to introduce new legislation that would allow closer cooperation between Australian spies and the Defence Force. It originally planned to make the change through an amendment to the Foreign Fighters Bill, but now intends to introduce the change through separate legislation.
The draft document states the information could be used to “support” military operations that have a “direct effect” on Australians. The Government is playing down suggestions the new provisions would allow the military to target – and kill – Australian fighters. The new legislation will be referred to a parliamentary committee for review.
RELATED! ISIS Destroys 2000 Year Old Hatra Cultural Center
Islamic State (IS) militants have destroyed ancient remains of the 2,000-year-old city of Hatra in northern Iraq, the tourism and antiquities ministry says. An official said the ministry had received reports from its employees in the northern city of Mosul, which is under the control of the radical Islamist group, that the site at Hatra had been demolished on Saturday.
It was difficult to confirm the reports and the ministry had not received any pictures showing the extent of the damage, the official said.
But a resident in the area said he heard a powerful explosion early on Saturday and said other people nearby had reported that IS militants had destroyed some of the larger buildings in Hatra and were bulldozing other parts.
Hatra lies about 110 kilometres south of Mosul, the largest city under the IS group’s control.
Director general of the United Nations cultural body UNESCO, Irina Bokova, condemned the reported wanton destruction of the ancient city.
“The destruction of Hatra marks a turning point in the appalling strategy of cultural cleansing underway in Iraq,” UNESCO said. “Official sources today reported the destruction of the World Heritage property of Hatra. This is a direct attack against the history of Islamic Arab cities, and it confirms the role of destruction of heritage in the propaganda of extremists groups.”
However Mohammed Nuri, an MP from southern Nineveh province, where Hatra is located, cast doubt on whether the reports were accurate, saying “until this moment, there are no confirmed reports that Hatra has been destroyed”.
“Hatra is somewhat isolated, and residents are not nearby,” Mr Nuri said. “I have not heard of someone who physically saw the destruction taking place.”
A week ago the militants released a video showing them smashing statues and carvings in Mosul’s museum, home to priceless Assyrian and Hellenistic artefacts dating back 3,000 years.
On Thursday they attacked the remains of the Assyrian city of Nimrud, south of Mosul, with bulldozers.
UNESCO said the destruction amounted to war crimes.
Hatra dates back 2,000 years to the Seleucid empire which controlled a large part of the ancient world conquered by Alexander the Great.
It is famous for its striking pillared temple at the centre of a sprawling archaeological site.
Islamic State: Destruction of ancient Assyrian city Nimrud by bulldozer condemned by UN
Condemnation has poured in of the Islamic State (IS) group’s bulldozing of the ancient city of Nimrud, the jihadists’ latest attack on Iraqi cultural treasures that the UN termed a “war crime”. After rampaging through Mosul’s museum with sledgehammers and torching its library last month, IS “bulldozed” the nearby ruins of Nimrud, the tourism and antiquities ministry said.
Antiquities officials said IS militants had moved trucks last week to the site overlooking the Tigris River, 30 kilometres south-east of their main hub of Mosul.
“Until now, we do not know to what extent it was destroyed,” one official said.
Nimrud was the latest victim of what appears to be a systematic campaign by the jihadists to obliterate Iraq’s rich heritage. The city was founded in the 13th century BC and was considered the jewel of the Assyrian era.
Its stunning reliefs and colossal statues of winged bulls with human heads guarding palace gates filled the world’s museums in the 19th century. A collection of 613 pieces of gold jewellery, ornaments and precious stones discovered in a royal tomb in 1988 has been described as one of the greatest archaeological finds of the 20th century.
Abdulamir Hamdani, an Iraqi archaeologist from Stony Brook University in New York, said the militant group’s “plan is to destroy Iraqi heritage, one site at a time.”
“Hatra of course will be next,” he added of a 2,000-year-old UNESCO-listed site about 100 kilometres south of Mosul known for its beautifully preserved temples blending Hellenistic, Roman and Eastern influences.
UNESCO calls for great protection of heritage sites
UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon called the destruction a war crime and urged political and religious leaders in the region to speak out in condemnation of “these unacceptable attacks”.
Irina Bokova, the head of the UN’s cultural body UNESCO, condemned the destruction of Nimrud “with the strongest force”.
“We cannot stay silent. The deliberate destruction of cultural heritage constitutes a war crime, and I call on all political and religious leaders in the region to stand up against this new barbarity,” she said.
UNESCO has called for tougher action to protect the many heritage sites in one of the cradles of civilisation, but little can be done in areas under jihadist control.
The White House too criticised the move, with the National Security Council tweeting: “Deeply saddened by incomprehensible destruction of historical, cultural and religious artefacts in Iraq, including recent attacks in Nimrud”.
The Cairo-based Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam’s leading authority, expressed outrage at what it termed “a major crime against the entire world”.
Grand ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s top Shiite cleric who is revered by millions, sharply criticised IS’s targeting of the Mosul museum and archaeological sites.
It demonstrates “their savagery and their barbarism and their hostility to the Iraqi people”, Mr Sistani’s representative said on his behalf at weekly prayers in Karbala.
IS still controls large parts of northern and western Iraq, but has been losing ground under mounting military pressure from Iraqi federal and Kurdish forces backed by a US-led coalition and by Iran.
Baghdad recently launched a huge offensive to retake the city of Tikrit, in what commanders have said was a stepping stone toward an even larger operation to free Mosul.