This week features the Prime Minister’s national security statement, the Countering Violent Extremism Summit in Washington, terror threats in the Asia–Pacific, sweeping CT legal reforms across the globe and the upcoming metadata retention bill.
Following the release of the Martin Place Siege Review on Sunday and the Review of Australia’s Counter-Terrorism Machinery the next day, Prime Minister Tony Abbott delivered the much-anticipated National Security Statement at AFP headquarters on Monday. The announcement included tighter immigration controls, a crackdown on ‘hate preachers’ and the future appointment of CT ‘tsar’ to improve cooperation between national security agencies. He also called on Muslim leaders to more frequently describe Islam as a ‘religion of peace’.
Reaction to the statement was mixed. Critics warned that the announcements risk alienating the Islamic community (‘a vital source of information on extremists’), that the tsar would be ‘good in theory but a bit messy in practice’ and that tougher laws are not necessarily more effective. See also The Australian’s analysis of the statement in the context of Australia’s national security climate.
Complementing the law reform proposals, Attorney-General George Brandis announced last Thursday an allocation of $18 million to combatting and restricting access to extremist narratives online. However, terrorism researcher Andrew Zammit wrote that the role of social media in radicalisation is ‘overstated’, pointing to reports indicating that ‘real-world’ relationships, not social media, are the decisive influence in radicalising British extremists.
Tuning into international dialogue, what can we take out of the White House’s Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Summit? Hardeep S. Puri and Omar El Okdah over on The Global Observatory noted that the summit underscored the need for a multilateral strategy, whilst acknowledging changes in the scope of the problem (now that violent non-state actors control land as large as the UK) and the need to address the ‘root causes’ of extremism. Adopting a human rights approach to CT, President Obama stressed the ‘undeniable’ link between oppression and terrorism:
‘When people are oppressed, and human rights are denied — particularly along sectarian lines or ethnic lines, when dissent is silenced, it feeds violent extremism…’
See here for the President’s full remarks and the summit’s Ministerial Meeting Statement for a full overview. On the other hand, critics of the meeting argued that the conference was too narrowly focussed, including that it looked at soft power to the exclusion of hard power, at individuals and not broader extremist group strategies, and at Muslims over all forms of violent extremists.
Turning to the Asia–Pacific, Michael Kugelman has a new Foreign Policy piece setting out three ways that ISIS could make inroads in the region. On China, the Australian Security Magazine provided a succinct analysis of how the rising terrorism threat plays out in the unique Chinese context. In particular, China’s Turkic speaking, predominantly Muslim Uyghur minority has received considerable attention, with China currently carrying out a terrorism crackdown in the Uyghur homeland of Xinjiang. The Diplomat discusses how Afghanistan’s arrest and transfer of Muslim Uyghur militants to China demonstrates Afghanistan’s willingness to deepen CT cooperation with the nation, a sign of China’s ever-growing engagement with the Central Asian state.
Finally, the global wave of new CT legislation continues. Pakistan has ordered that unless mobile phone users to confirm their identities via fingerprints to be added to a CT database, their service will be severed. These measures were a response to the accumulation of untraceable cell phones, including those used by Taliban militants who killed 150 students in December last year. Egypt has passed new anti-terror laws that broaden the meaning of ‘terrorist’ and gives authorities sweeping powers, including banning activities and freezing funds of deemed ‘terrorists’. In Canada, the anti-terrorism bill dubbed ‘Bill C-51’ passed the second reading, taking the country closer to the expansion of powers of national security agencies and police to foil terrorist plots. See here for details and Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s case for the bill, and here for details of a joint statement signed by prominent Canadians (including four former PMs) calling for greater oversight.
Coming up, the Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security will be delivering a report on the hotly debated metadata retention bill tomorrow. Speaking at the Tech Leaders conference on Sunday, AFP Assistant Commissioner made the case that access to metadata and telecommunications data is a ‘vital aspect of all serious crime investigations’. For a look at both sides of the argument, the CSO has conveniently provided a two-part series, including the cases for and against metadata retention.
Stephanie Huang is an intern at ASPI. Image courtesy of Flickr user LL Twistiti.