Hostage Taking in Sydney: Australia Faces the Jihadist Threat

Hostage Taking in Sydney Australia Faces the Jihadist ThreatThe country has been preparing for months for this eventuality, for fear of reprisals of its commitment against terrorism.

The government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott has hardened its anti-terrorism laws and indeed passed in early September its alert level from “average” to “high” for the first time since 2013, a measure that means that, without “likely terrorist attacks” being necessarily imminent.

Long-time ally of the United States and a member of the “coalition” that invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, the country took part in the “war against terrorism” in the United States. This commitment continues with its involvement in bombings against the Islamic state organization (EI) in Iraq and Syria. The Australian Army has deployed six hundred soldiers in the UAE and has delivered military equipment, weapons and ammunition to the Kurds.

88 Australians killed in the Bali bombings in 2002

Australia had been hit hard by Islamist terrorism when bombs exploded October 12, 2002 in Bali, Indonesia, sometimes regarded as a kind of “Sydney-Beach”, a few flying hours away. The attacks had two hundred and two dead, including eighty-eight Australians. In 2005, a new series of attacks in Bali killed twenty people, including four Australians, and hundred and twenty nine injured, nineteen of them being Australians.

The country also faced several alerts: in 2005, five men were arrested and sentenced to prison terms ranging from twenty-three to twenty-eight years in prison for plotting a series of attacks in Sydney. Investigators had then seized weapons, ammunition, manuals for making chemical weapons or videos of decapitation. In 2009, four men linked to Somali Shabab suspected of preparing a terrorist attack against military facilities in the Sydney area were arrested and sentenced to three of them, to eighteen years in prison.

2014: large-scale operations against jihadist cells

At the end of September a young man suspected of “terrorism” by the Australian intelligence had injured two stab wounds to police officers before being shot, following appeals by the Islamic State urging Muslims to kill Western nationals.

A few days earlier, police had announced the arrest of five people, saying they had foiled assassination by jihadists who have particular intended to  film the beheading of civilians. This was the largest operation of its kind ever held in the country.

Increasingly restrictive laws

On October 30, the government of Tony Abbott has tightened anti-terrorism laws now prohibiting travel to countries considered international terrorism homes, hoping to prevent the departure of aspirants to jihad for Syria or for Iraq. According to official figures, nearly seventy Australian citizens are already parties to fight in terrorist groups, twenty of them would have returned to Australia and a hundred others bring financial support or help with recruitment.

With these new measures, the Australian executive wants to criminalize any movement, without valid reason, in an area declared as the business scene of an enemy terrorist organization. The maximum penalty is ten years in prison. An investigative and intervention specialist in the neutralization of aspirants to jihad was also created. Empowered to monitor, challenge and prosecute suspects, this unit centralizes the work of various intelligence agencies involved.

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