We don’t know how many Muslims from Australia are fighting in Syria

But not to worry, our real enemies are  blue-tie wearers.

Extremism on home soil needs to be watched

Extremism?” Like overeating or binge drinking? Of course not. Just another journo  (Anthony Bergin from The AGE)  who can’t get himself to use the ‘M’ word.

After the Boston bombings and the terrorist attack in Woolwich, it’s odd that recent revelations on homegrown extremism  Islamic activities downunder haven’t created community and political concern.

Up to 100 Australians  We don’t know how many Muslims from Australia are   thought to be fighting in Syria at the moment and authorities fear young Australian Muslims are being radicalised on home soil as a program in a Western Sydney bookstore suggests.


The ABC’s 7.30 program recently aired a report that examined whether young Australian Muslims are being radicalised on home soil.

It highlighted some very unhealthy developments in our society: strongly held beliefs of radicalised young men in Sydney, directly encouraged by local imams and the operations of the Al Risalah bookstore in Bankstown promoting extremism Islam & Jihad.

The program noted four Australian Muslims who had volunteered to go to Syria and fought with the al Qaeda group, Jabhat al-Nursa. They were killed there and listed as martyrs on jihadi forums.

One of the participants was a Melbourne bricklayer. He’d been named in a cable from the US embassy in Canberra as one of 23 Australians that the US had requested over two years ago to be added to a terrorist screening database.

The 7.30 report highlighted how the Al Risalah bookstore was a centre of Islamic extremism. It had attracted an audience of hundreds of young Muslim men to pay tribute to an imam who was killed in Syria last year.

The program noted that several firebrand sheiks are operating at the bookstore, including one known to the authorities who was a former baggage handler at Qantas, trained at a military camp in Afghanistan and was a confidante of Osama bin Laden. Last year he was convicted to nine years’ jail for producing a do-it-yourself terrorism book.

Dreyfus is our best example of a limp dick:

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus stated on the program that those fighting in Syria are breaking Australian law. But there wasn’t any suggestion that there would be charges laid, or that the activities of the Bankstown bookstore would be restricted.

In a follow up to the story, the 7.30 program highlighted differences within the Muslim communities in Western Sydney about fighting in Syria. Threats are being made to those not supporting Jabhat al-Nursa. The Al Risalah bookstore refused to be interviewed for the story.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard recently said in Parliament that the implications of the murder of the British soldier have been considered by our national security committee, without spelling out what’s been the follow-up here.

The goose is cooked. Stick a fork in it!

The story highlighted the rising dangers of Islamist extremism in our communities of Islam in Australia. We should be developing long-term strategies to counter these views. This needs to be done in a way that upholds Australian values of a fair go and tolerance.

The federal Attorney-General is responsible for countering extremism. But he’s got more than 60 portfolio responsibilities, nearly all of which have little to do with counter-radicalisation. It’s time for a bolder approach.

An expert should be appointed to be directly accountable to the Prime Minister for efforts to effectively challenge and counter extremist narratives, especially those online: the internet’s figured prominently in an overwhelming number of cases of homegrown radicalisation.

We need someone reporting to the Prime Minister who’s consistently working on the crucial grassroots task of outflanking the dangers of Islamist extremism.

As British Prime Minister David Cameron’s just told British MPs in the wake of the the Woolwich killing: “It is not simply enough to target and go after violent extremists after they’ve become violent. We have to drain the swamp in which they inhabit.”

The return home of about 100 Australians fighting in Syria will pose significant challenges for countering extremism in Australia and only makes the task more urgent.

 Australia is by far not the only country facing these problems.


Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Broadcast: 30/05/2013

Reporter: Caro Meldrum-Hanna

Up to 100 Australians are thought to be fighting in Syria at the moment and authorities fear young Australian Muslims are being radicalised on home soil as a program in a Western Sydney bookstore suggests.


LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: The spectre of home-grown terror has haunted security agencies in countries like Australia since 2001.

It was revived last week in London by the horrific knife murder of a British soldier and this week in Sydney by the arrest of a man accused of threatening to kill a Commonwealth officer.

Authorities’ concerns are being heightened by the bloody conflict in Syria. It’s become a magnet and a new training ground for militants around the world, including in Australia.

To date, four Australians have died fighting in Syria against the Assad regime and a hundred Australians are currently believed to be on the frontline, even though it’s illegal under Australian law.

So who are these jihad warriors? Where are they coming from? And are they being transformed into dangerous radicals?

Caro Meldrum-Hanna’s been investigating, and a warning: this story contains some disturbing images.

CARO MELDRUM-HANNA, REPORTER: According to the video, this is martyr Abu al-Walid. To his friends and family he was Yusuf Toprakkaya, a Melbourne bricklayer and a father. He was killed in Syria last year.

In this tribute video posted online after his death in December, 2012, he’s shown making detonators for bombs and on night patrol with rebels in Syria, proof that he was involved in fighting at the frontline, a criminal act under Australian law.

MARK DREYFUS, ATTORNEY-GENERAL: They’re breaking at least three laws: the Foreign Incursions Act, which makes it an offence for Australians to go and participate in this kind of civil war; the Criminal Code Act so far as they are participating in the conflict with a proscribed terrorist group, and it’s also against the arms sanctions that we’ve imposed on the Syrian regime, and that involves not just not supplying arms to the current Syrian Government, but not assisting in any way in providing assistance in a military conflict to the Syrian Government.

CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Yusuf Toprakkaya was well known to Australian authorities. He was named in this secret 2010 cable from the US Embassy in Canberra, requesting 23 Australians be added to the terrorist screening database.

Toprakkaya left behind his wife and family who live here in this small fibro house in Melbourne’s Northern Suburbs.

The Toprakkayas aren’t the only family mourning a father or brother who’s died in Syria.

Roger Abbas, a Sunni Muslim and champion kickboxer, is another Australian who gave his life to the Syrian cause.

SONYA ABBAS, SISTER: He was a very soft-hearted person who loved everyone, who hated hurting anyone.

CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: His sister, Sonya Abbas, last saw him in mid-2012 when Roger Abbas left Australia for Syria.

SONYA ABBAS: And then anyway, he goes, “I’m going.” And I said, “OK.” He goes – I said, “You can wait?” He goes, “No, no, you can follow me there. I’ll meet you there.” I said, “I don’t think I’m gonna go that soon. You’ll be back.” He said, “Well, I’m gonna go now and then I’ll go again with you.” So he left. I said, “Good luck.”

CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Less than two months later, he was dead.

Sonya Abbas travelled to Syria to try and find her brother’s body, witnessing the humanitarian crisis first-hand, a result of the war between Sunni Muslims and Shi’ite President Bashar Al-Assad.

Sonya Abbas says her brother Roger went to Syria to do humanitarian work, but there’s evidence to suggest otherwise.

AARON ZELIN, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: Well some of the individuals when they go over to a place like Syria will use a front cover saying that they’re working for a humanitarian organisation and actually be going over to join up with a rebel group.

CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Aaron Zelin is a leading US academic based at the Washington Institute. He’s been researching and analysing martyrdom notices posted on the websites of Jihadist groups, including this one belonging to Roger Abbas.

AARON ZELIN: It’s definitely possible that they could have been providing humanitarian relief, but in one case, with Roger Abbas, it actually noted that he was fighting with Jabhat al-Nusra and he actually had his own kunya, which was essentially a war name, and usually individuals who pick up these types of second war names are usually affiliated with more radical organisations.

CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Jabhat al-Nusra is an extremist Sunni group and designated terrorist organisation with ties to Al-Qaeda. In Syria it’s carrying out bombings and retribution killings against the Assad regime.

This video was posted online two weeks ago showing al-Nusra rebels executing Assad supporters.

So how do you respond to the rumours that perhaps he was doing more than, say, humanitarian work? That he was at the frontline fighting?

SONYA ABBAS: OK. Alright. To be quite honest with you, after what I witnessed, it doesn’t matter whether he was a fighter or whether he was doing humanitarian – he was doing that for Syrian civilians. So, it doesn’t matter.

CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Roger Abbas’ friend and fellow kickboxer, 22-year-old Sammy Salma, was in Syria at the same time. Salma was killed in an explosion near the frontline of Aleppo in April.

Roger Abbas was inspired by this man, high-profile Sydney Sheikh Mustapha al-Majzoub, who made this speech at an anti-Assad rally in Western Sydney in February.

MUSTAPHA AL-MAJZOUB, MUSLIM SHEIKH (Jan. 2012): Every time there is someone who is killed for this religion, this fire will only get stronger and stronger.

CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Seven months later in August, 2012, Majzoub was dead. His family declined 7.30’s requests for an interview, telling us that Majzoub was killed by a rocket attack while doing humanitarian work.

AARON ZELIN: The case of the four Australians is that all of them have ended up with martyrdom notices on jihadi forums. And there have been many foreigners who have died in Syria, but not all of the individuals who are foreigners who die in Syria end up with having martyrdom notices on jihadi forums. Therefore I think the allegations are somewhat suspect or potentially they did originally go there to help out in a humanitarian capacity and then joined up with some rebel forces.

CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: This website says Sheikh Majzoub was killed while leading a rebel platoon in the northern Syrian town of Salma.

WEBSITE (male voiceover): “He named his platoon after his grandfather and it was there in Salma where a rocket from the enemies of Allah hit three men alhumdu lillah, Sheikh Mustapha being one of them and they were all martyr, as we reckoned them.

CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: When news of Majzoub’s death hit Sydney, hundreds of young Muslim men flocked to the Al Risalah Bookstore in Bankstown, Western Sydney to pay him tribute.

PREACHER: But I warn the youth today, and I say to them today, me and you, with Allah the blood of these martyrs will not be lost, but will we waste the blood of the martyrs?

CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Since it opened just over one year ago, Al Risalah Bookstore has gained a reputation as a centre of Islamic extremism. Sheikh Majzoub gave his final lecture here.

MUSTAPHA AL-MAJZOUB: My dear respected brothers and sisters in Islam, (inaudible).

CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: What do you know of the Al Risalah Bookstore in Bankstown?

JAMAL DAOUD, SOCIAL JUSTICE NETWORK: Al Risalah Bookstore especially is very secret, very secretive. They conduct their business in a very secretive way.

CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Some community leaders like Jamal Daoud are concerned.

JAMAL DAOUD: I tried, I tried to explore who’s behind this group. We can’t. It is very secretive. This is very worrying for us in a democracy to have some secretive organisation. They conduct all their businesses in very secretive way.

CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: So you do not know who the sheikhs are?


CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: 7.30 has been investigating al Risalah’s activities and the speeches made by a number of sheiks, urging Australians to get involved in Syria.

This is Sheikh Abu Sulayman, picture here delivering a lecture at the Al Risalah Bookstore last year, encouraging his audience of young Muslim men to join the jihad in Syria.

ABU SULAYMAN, MUSLIM SHEIKH: We’re calling day and night for us to support them with our wealth and with our blood and with whatever we possess.

CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: This is Sheikh Omar El Banna who also gave a lecture at Al Risalah last year. He made this speech, titled Syria is my Responsibility, in western Sydney.

OMAR EL-BANNA, SHEIKH: I want to pass on two points. That you are responsible for what’s happening there. … What should we be do? When one organ is in pain, the remaining parts of the body, they show care. … In Syria now, the problem, Allah will ask you, “What did you do?”

CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: This is Musa Cerantonio.

MUSA CERANTONIO, MUSLIM SHEIKH: Allah is our protector. He is our protector and they have no protector.

CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Once an Italian Christian, now a passionate convert to Islam, teaching at Al Risalah. Here Musa Cerantonio promotes the Al-Qaeda-backed jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria.

MUSA CERANTONIO: Allah willing, as one of the leaders Jabhat al-Nusra said: “If we take this (Damascus) – and I don’t want to give false hope – but if we take this, Allah willing, victory is near.”

CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Al Risalah has another even more infamous sheikh. Abu Suhaib, known to the authorities as Bilal Khazal, a former baggage handler for Qantas, trained at a military camp in Afghanistan and a confidante of Osama Bin Laden. Khazal was lecturing at Al Risalah until mid-2012 when he was convicted and sentenced to nine years’ jail for producing a do-it-yourself terrorism book. Al Risalah posted this video of Khazal online titled “Final advice before his imprisonment”:

ABU SUHAIB, MUSLIM SHEIKH: We ask God Almighty for victory and that the Islamic state rises up.

CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Do you believe that these bookstores are radicalising young men?

JAMAL DAOUD: Definitely. If you go inside and read what DVDs and books they’re distributing, it’s all about radical Islam.

CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: The possibility that extremist sheikhs are radicalising youth at home before they go to Syria has Australian authorities on high alert.

Are you aware of the sheikhs behind Al Risalah and what they’re teaching, preaching?

NICK KALDAS, NSW DEPUTY POLICE COMMISSIONER: Um, I am aware of Al Risalah and I’m aware of some of the activities that go on and some of the individuals involved, yes

CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Would it concern you if these sheikhs and teachers at Al Risalah were promoting violent jihad?

NICK KALDAS: All of that has to be of concern, certainly. But I would also say that our federal authorities are very much involved in some of the issues you’ve just raised, certainly in term of fundraising and people going – leaving Australia and going to fight overseas. The federal authorities have to be involved and have privacy in a lotta those issues.

CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: If there’s evidence of that though, of this radicalisation …

NICK KALDAS: It is of concern. It’s definitely of concern.

MARK DREYFUS: Clearly, there’s a radicalisation involved in wanting to participate in this kind of military and violent activity. There’s a concern before people go, but there’s a concern after they return as well. And the director general of ASIO has spoken of this, I’ve spoken of this: that if you’ve got to Syria, participated in the conflict there, particularly with a terrorist group, and then returned to Australia, it’s likely that you will return not just with terrorist ideology, but with more knowledge.

CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: What would you say to the sheikhs or teachers at Al Risalah who are encouraging young men to go to Syria?

NICK KALDAS: Clearly that’s not an advisable option. I mean, sending people into a war zone is something that’s quite heartless and quite selfish, I have to say. For somebody to be advocating that others go and fight in a war when they’re not prepared to do it themselves tells me something about those who are advocating that.

LEIGH SALES: Caro Meldrum-Hanna reporting there.

EDITOR’S NOTE (3 JUNE): This story and transcript have been amended since broadcast to state that Sheikh Omar El Banna has lectured at Al Risalah once, rather than being a regular teacher there.

One thought on “We don’t know how many Muslims from Australia are fighting in Syria”

  1. Understanding Islam: An Introduction to the Muslim World is a short history of the Islamic faith. Islam is simliar to most religions in that it provides a divine book with rules for how to interact with other people. It varies in one major aspect. Islam teaches that its followers have the duty to oppose governments if they think that the government is in opposition to the religious beliefs. And they are required if able to take physical action, verbal action, or at the very least moral action. This belief makes for a destabilizing influence since like most religious there are several factions in Islam with opposing views. This problem has more gas dumped on the destabilizing fire because Islam does not recognize a distinction between church and state. These beliefs helped me to understand some of the turmoil in the Middle East. But to blame Islam for all the problems there is like blaming Christianity for tight binding underwear. By which I mean that it is any easy scapegoat. Seems like a lot of Muslims are like most other religious people. They want life to run smoothly, follow their beliefs without reprisal for it, and to live in relative peace. But there is a loud minority that gets all the media attention much like people shooting abortion doctors or burning down Planned Parenthood centers.So, if you want a little history on Islam go for it. Understanding Islam: An Introduction to the Muslim World seemed fairly impartial and informative. But much like snow peas, I would have been just as happy with them on my plate as off my plate. Sweet peas are another story.

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