Network Of Jihad Supporters In Australia Still Going Strong

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August 13, 2020

In 2013, MEMRI reported on the Al-Risalah Islamic bookstore in Sydney, Australia, which also served as a community center for local Muslims.[1] The report noted that the bookstore, located in the Bankstown area of West Sydney, was a hub for the dissemination of Islamist materials and for spreading extremist and militant Islamic views. Many individuals who operated and preached there later joined Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State (ISIS), and/or were involved in terror activity inside Australia. Owned by Australian preacher and community leader Wissam Haddad, the center closed in September 2014 after media reports about its activity sparked public outrage.[2]

However, a new MEMRI JTTM report, based on research conducted in 2019-2020, shows that despite the media attention and the police crackdown several years ago, many members of this Sydney-based jihadi network are still very active, preaching extremist views both online and on the ground and possibly recruiting for terror organizations.

For full access to the Jihadi Terrorism Threat Monitor report on the network of jihadi supporters in Australia, contact [email protected]


Convicted felon and jihadi preacher Junaid Thorne preached at the Al-Risalah center in 2013

This new MEMRI JTTM report gives a comprehensive overview of the network of individuals, organizations, venues, social media accounts and media operations based in and around Sydney. The individuals include several senior figures who were previously active in the area, as well as new recruits. All were found to be linked, through personal and online contacts, to jihadi fighters, jihadi social media accounts, and/or individuals currently or previously incarcerated for terror-related offenses. Some members of the network are now convicted terrorists themselves.

The network members are continuing to spread Salafi-jihadi ideology similar to ISIS ideology within the community and online, by disseminating extremist materials, delivering sermons and lectures, and holding prayer and study groups as well as through recreational community activities. The research also uncovered an ongoing effort of "street da'wah," that is, activity in in public places, which involves setting up booths to dispense pamphlets, copies of the Quran, and other Islamic materials and preaching to passersby. These activities focus especially on Muslim teens, with the aim of drawing them into the Salafi-jihadi circle, and on non-Muslims, especially members of minorities, with the aim of interesting them in conversion to Islam.


Street-preaching stand in Sydney

Such street-preaching activities, which serve not only to spread the creed but also to strengthen the group-cohesion of the activists, are an integral part of jihadi activity. Many prominent Western jihadi fighters are known to have engaged in street preaching, and organizations devoted to these activities were found to have direct ties to Islamic terror and were banned and/or designated as terror organizations. As an illustration, seven of the 15 suspects arrested in 2014 in counterterrorism raids in the Sydney area were members of one such street-preaching program – the Paramatta Street Dawah group.[3] This leader of this group was Mohammad Ali Baryalei, who joined ISIS in 2013 and became known as the most senior Australian member of this organization. He was apparently also involved in the recruitment of several other Australian ISIS members.[4]

The Sydney-based network was also found to have links to wider networks and to global jihad. Some of the projects and individuals were identified as being active abroad, mainly but not exclusively through online activity and contacts. The analysis shows possible links to activities and individuals in the Philippines, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Britain, Canada, Indonesia, and Lebanon.

Focusing on 45 interlinked entities (people and organizations), the August 2020 MEMRI JTTM report outlines the network and gives basic facts about its components, tracing their ties to each other and to global jihad. It shows that the network is centered around a core group of jihad organizations, operatives, and supporters. The information is also presented in the form of an interactive dynamic graph, which enables the reader to more easily comprehend the scope and the network and its complex structure.


Screengrab of the dynamic graph showing interactions between the entities of the researched network

All groups and individuals featured in this report are connected through shared ideology and discourse and through links, past or present, to known terrorists, terror groups, or jihadi activity. Thus, it is likely that all members of the network (including seemingly more benign ones) are engaged in spreading militant Islam and recruiting supporters, and some members of the network may be involved in active terrorist plots.

 

[2] Abc.net.au, "Al Risalah Centre in Western Sydney Closes as Director Wissam Haddad Claims Members Targeted by Police and ASIO," September 15, 2014.

[3] The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia), "Members of Street Dawah Preaching Group Feature Heavily in Sydney's Counterterrorism Raids," September 28, 2014.

[4] The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia), "Who Is Mohammad Ali Baryalei, the Man Accused of Conspiring to Behead a Stranger in Australia?," September 18, 2014.

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The Cyber & Jihad Lab monitors, tracks, translates, researches, and analyzes cyber jihad originating from the Middle East, Iran, South Asia, and North and West Africa. It innovates and experiments with possible solutions for stopping cyber jihad, advancing legislation and initiatives federally – including with Capitol Hill and attorneys-general – and on the state level, to draft and enforce measures that will serve as precedents for further action. It works with leaders in business, law enforcement, academia, and families of terror victims to craft and support efforts and solutions to combat cyber jihad, and recruits, and works with technology industry leaders to craft and support efforts and solutions.

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