The Australian counter-measures to the Islamic State challenge – by Matteo Vergani

The Islamic State allure reached as far as Australia, as demonstrated by the intensity of the public discussion on the issue in the Australian media[1]. The Australian authorities not only fear that young people (a few converts but mainly Muslim immigrants and second-third generations) could answer the call and go to fight with IS, but also that the returnees with Australian passport could come back radicalized from the war and perpetrate a terrorist attack on Australian soil. ASIO (the Australian intelligence service) estimates that about 60 Australians are fighting in Syria and Iraq, 15 have died there (2 of which as suicide bombers), and tens have already returned.

Some of the Australian fighters posted on their Twitter accounts terrible graphic images from the battlefield: the last and most discussed of which was the 7 year old son of a fighter who posed holding a severed head in the IS controlled city of Raqqa[2]. The public discussion about IS and the risks for Australia, sparked by the emotive reactions to the atrocities committed by Australian fighters in Syria, reached crisis point in June 2014, and pushed the Abbott government to take action against IS[3].

The Government’s counter-measures have been mainly two at the moment: the first is a discussed reform of the national security legislation, which includes making easier to the intelligence services to confiscate passports and to spy on suspected extremists, and restriction to the travels to Middle Eastern countries such as Syria and Iraq[4]. The second counter-measure is the preparation of Australia to be part of a new US-led military campaign against the Islamic State[5].

The first measure already provoked outrage, especially in the Islamic communities that see the new legislation as discriminatory for Australian Muslims[6]. The second will surely create frustration and opposition in large sectors of the society.