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On April 23 my brief assessment in Quadrant Online covered the Boston bombings and the government agency responses in the US and here (“The nameless peril of Muslim terror”).  I also gave a lengthy interview on Radio station 2GB . Various contacts have also subsequently sent me commentary in the US and, put together with those published here, there is clearly a need for a major upgrade in attitudes and policies towards extremist Muslim activity by governments and others both here and in the US. Today’s Financial Review has published my letter (attached) calling for an upgrade in our security risk alert (now “medium”).

Although it is difficult to assess the US situation at a distance, it seems US Government agencies should have been tracking the bombers as a potential terrorist risk well before the bombs exploded - and possibly also should have stopped them on the day. Alarmingly, the US Government also seems to have failed to use the bombings to publicly acknowledge the seriousness of the domestic threat of Islamic extremism. Not even a review, let alone a new policy, has been announced and “the authorities” (including President Obama) and sections of the media seem to have given more attention to the chase and the reactions of the bombers’ parents et al than to the motivations and objectives of the bombers. Instead, the public got a weak Obama conclusion that “we won in Boston and the terrorists will have learnt their lesson”.  

What of the average American? A post-bombing PEW poll (below) shows that 75 per cent of Americans now expect “occasional” terrorist activity to be at least “part of life”, the highest rate since PEW’s 2003 poll. But “occasional” is difficult to interpret given that nearly half agree there is more government can do to prevent such attacks, with roughly even proportions of Republicans and Democrats. And about a quarter are “very worried” there will be another attack. That about half of Americans from both sides of politics are seemingly not concerned about possible deficiencies in government policies on terrorism is alarming but consistent with the limited attention given in public by government and its agencies to the terrorist threat at home.  


 Why might that be? Drawing on analyses published in the US (but not here) by intelligence experts and others, it may reflect the lack of serious public attention given by the Obama Administration (and its predecessor) to the potential for damage from Muslim extremist activity in America since 9/11. This is reflected in the apparent refusal by President Obama himself even to use the word “Muslim” in statements on the bombings.  A picture has been portrayed that the domestic threat from al Qaeda is largely overcome through US military and intelligence activity overseas and this reduces the risk of home grown terrorist activity to “occasional”. Yet of the 19 documented foiled attacks by terrorists in American since 9/11, the vast majority were born in the US and were radicalised locally in American mosques and Islamic centres under the control of radical imams (we do not know the extent of “undocumented” activities). Although the US Census does not collect data on religious beliefs, estimates of Muslim numbers, ranging between 2 and 10 million or 0.5-2.5% of the total population, indicate they are more than sufficient to provide extremists similar to the two bombers. Note that, following the establishment of the Muslim Brotherhood in the US after the Muslim Student Association was established in 1963, the US now has many Islamic organisations and over 2,000 mosques. One report suggests that President Obama received 67-90% of the Muslim vote. 

There also appears to have been only limited political, religious or media attention in the US to the actual and potential extent of extremist terrorist activity and what might be done about it. The focus by President Obama and many others on the provision under the American constitution that all faiths are accepted does not over-ride the 1st Amendment allowing public criticism of Islam or other faiths. Yet in a Christian country we have the amazing statement by CIA Director, John Brennan, that jihad is a “legitimate tenet of Islam”. Note also that Obama rejected the proposal to treat the younger bomber as a “combatant” and he will be subject only to normal court processes. 

Motivation Acquired by the Tsarnaevs 

But how did the two Tsarnaevs become Muslims with extremist attitudes after they came ten years ago with their Muslim parents, one of whom subsequently returned to Muslim-dominated Dagestan? The bombers lived in an area with a Muslim population and one intelligence analyst claims they frequented the Islamic Society of Boston, founded by a Muslim currently serving a 23 year sentence for terror related offences. They also attended the mosque of that society, which is managed by the Muslim American Society, a subsidiary of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is reported that the MAS web has published advocacy of jihad and martyrdom and that the ISB has invited radical speakers, including one who apparently described Christians and Jews as “spiritually filthy substance”.  

It was against this background that the bombers would have been through their education. Apart from the fact that the elder bomber recently spent some time in Muslim dominated Dagestan, I have found no “education influence” information on him other than the fact that he accessed extremist videos. One of these was, as one US analyst points out, that of a “Lebanese-Australian extremist cleric [clearly “our” Sheik Feiz Mohammed] whose messages of hatred for Western culture were prominent on his YouTube playlists”. This is the cleric who, according to our Attorney General Dreyfus, has recently reversed his views on activism and is now supporting the counter-terrorism program “we have in many communities across Australia” – but of which few if any of us are aware! It is also of interest that the elder bomber is suspected as having been involved in the murder by throat-cutting of three “friends” in 2011.    

As to the younger bomber, he attended what one analyst (a former CIA agent) describes as a “celebrated” high school. The same analyst, however, claims the social studies teacher had a strong anti-American attitude and exerted a significant influence on the bomber. After the bombings, that teacher was widely interviewed in American press and he told it how “normal” the young man was.   

Implications for Australia’s Security 

For Australia the defence and security policies adopted by the United States are vital and it is of serious concern that the US does not seem to be handling adequately the actions and potential threats by Muslim extremists, both externally and domestically. While we likely have little influence on US policies in this area, it would be in our interests to at least pose questions to the US Government about its risk assessment and policies for dealing with this growing problem.  

But we are not unfortunately in a good position to even imply what the US might do. Indeed we need to effect a major strengthening in our own counter terrorism policies. The Gillard government told us very recently (pre the bombings) that there have been only four foiled terrorist attacks here and that, although “not defeated”, terrorism is now not one of the three key risks in Australia’s national security strategy. Not mentioned is that some of those imprisoned have indicated that, when released from their relatively short sentences, they intend to continue their extremist objectives. In the case involving one of the four foiled attacks police told the courts they have been unable to find the weapons used in training and their assessment was that the extent of weaponry was similar to that used in the terrorist attack on Mumbai. Yet, according to Foreign Minister Carr, the fact that “only” 23 terrorist are in jail proves (sic) that “counter-terrorism is working” and that “intelligence gathering is the key to safeguarding the Australian people”.  

Since these statements terrorist acts have occurred not only in Boston but would-be terrorists have been caught in Canada and the UK (twice) and the Netherlands has raised its terrorist alert to “substantial”. As to Australia, the radical Hezbollah movement has claimed it has “sleeping cells” here and another radical group, Hizb ut-Tahrir, called for the boycott of Anzac day. In addition, it is now clear that a considerable number of Australian citizens have become attached to an al Qaeda group in the Syrian civil war and concern has been expressed that some of these will return “home” as radicalised Muslims. According to an article in the Week-End Australian, it is illegal for “Australians to ... fight for any side in the civil war” (“Is Syria turning our idealistic youth into hardened jihadis? ”, 27 April). Yet according to this article all that Attorney General Dreyfus can do is express “concern” about the possible radicalisations while Deputy Commissioner Drennan of the Australian Federal Police claims that only control orders (not prosecutions) could (possibly) be used to prevent terrorist action by radicalised returners. Unlike in the US, the al Qaeda group in Syria is not yet outlawed here but will be “soon”. In short it seems evident that the Boston bombings have if anything encouraged extremists to be more vocal about their jihad objectives in Australia.  

The time has surely come to seriously address the Muslim extremist problem in Australia: indeed the present is opportune. At the very least, any infringement of existing laws, should be the subject of prosecution. For example, while the Racial Hatred Act should be repealed, the present government’s failure to use it to prosecute radicalised imams is inexplicable. The extent of needed changes in policy cannot be spelt out here except to say that it should include a major statement by the federal government on the problem and how it intends to handle it.

Des Moore

Security needs boost
(Letter published in The Australian Financial Review, 29 April 2013.)
[Square bracketed references deleted by Ed]

You report the decision by President Obama that the remaining Boston bomber would be “prosecuted through our civilian system of justice” (“Boston suspect blames brother”, 24 April). At the same time, the New York Police Commissioner is reported as saying that he — and every professional in the field — believes the Boston attack was al-Qaeda-inspired.

In short, this horrific terrorist activity has important policy implications relevant to national security. At this sensitive time, alongside preventive al-Qaeda action in Canada,  it surely behoves our government to upgrade Australia’s security warning from medium and to ensure that additional protective measures are instituted to minimise the security risk. [It certainly creates a different situation to the recently portrayed perspective by Prime Minister Gillard that the risk of terrorism has diminished.]

Des Moore
Institute for Private Enterprise
South Yarra Vic

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