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News Analysis: Australia faces growing threat from young, tech-savvy radicals: terrorism expert

Xinhua, April 20, 2015 Adjust font size:

Australia is facing a "non-stop " threat from young radicals, such as the five teenagers detained in Melbourne over the weekend, who are part of a new breed of "do- it-yourself" online terrorists, a terrorism expert has said.

Dr David Malet, a senior lecturer in International Relations at the University of Melbourne, has warned that impressionable and disaffected youths would continue to be aggressively recruited by Islamic extremists overseas and, as a consequence, that meant major events in Australian cities were at risk.

Malet told Xinhua on Monday that counter-terrorism raids conducted in Melbourne on Saturday only highlighted the issues faced by police, after they foiled an alleged plan to attack the 100th anniversary of Anzac Day remembrance services this weekend.

Five men aged between 18 and 19 were detained by police after the early-morning raids, following a tip-off that the men had plotted to attack members of Victoria Police with knives and swords at the April 25 commemoration.

Anzac Day is one of the most sacred dates on the Australian and New Zealand calendar. It is a national day of remembrance that honors all Australians and New Zealanders who served and died in war.

The men had allegedly planned to target police with "edged weapons," in a similar plot which resulted in two young men being arrested in Sydney with knives and machetes late last year.

Malet said the risk of an attack occurring at a high-profile event was a lot higher than in the past.

"There was already going to be strong security presence around Anzac Day. Terrorists are attention seekers, and they look for highly symbolic events that will have a lot of media attention," Malet said.

He revealed that young people were the easiest to be recruited into groups such as Islamic State (IS), as their burgeoning interest in politics was still open to being molded.

"It tends to be young people who become involved in radical politics and militant groups," he said.

"When you're university age, it's easy to worry about political principles; these young people are not invested in their career or family at that point of life.

"They also want to feel like a hero. These recruiters from militant groups say that 'you can make a difference in the world.' "

"Truth be told, most of them don't have strong political views or religious views, they're looking to get revenge for what they see as injustice against them."

Malet said that young people often had a strong online presence and were very active on social media, and terrorist groups were taking advantage of social media to conduct faceless and remote recruiting campaigns.

"One thing that has changed about terrorism is the rise of internet and social media. It's become much easier to have recruiters contact people directly," he said.

"You used to have to visit brick and mortar institutions like a community center and gain people's trust and confidence.

"But now, any individual can find somebody over the internet who they never meet in person, who can find dozens of people to friend them, and there are entire IS internet brigades, and they can convince people to mount attacks on their own."

Malet said that while Australia has reported a spike in "lone wolf" terrorist activity, threats continued to rise in other countries as well.

The concern for authorities was that recruiters from groups such as IS can form radicalized factions from the comfort of their computers.

"This is a global issue, it's happening in North America, Europe and in Asia in places like China," Malet said. "There's no centralized threat, there's no army outside of the area IS controls.

"But that's what makes it so concerning, that you can have random acts of violence perpetrated against anyone, and that's what the plot in Melbourne was about."

Malet also warned that controversial preventative tactics used by Australian police could work against authorities in the fight against terrorism.

Preventative Detention Orders (PDOs) give police the ability to detain people for up to two weeks without charging them or suspecting them of plotting a crime, and Malet said if those on the cusp of joining radical groups threatened by being locked up for no reason, it could work to push more youths into the waiting arms of terrorist recruiters.

"There's been danger of PDOs being seen as based on profiling. If they were being unjustly used or injudicious, it would be easier for recruiters to go to particular communities and say 'You are being discriminated against and being targeted, this is why you need to take the fight back to them,'" he said.

The lecturer in international relations highlighted the need for police to be wary of when and where they use PDOs. "If they are used in limited capacity, and with strong evidence that an imminent attack has been stopped, then there's less of an issue."

He said the culture of online radicalization is predicted to continue, and counter terrorism experts had their work cut out in dealing with that problem. But the public would begin to feel the pressure from these extremist groups now, as well. Endi