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Inspire magazine: inciting terrorism in Australia?

Jihadist activity has been a primary source of concern for security agencies in the Western world for longer than a decade. When contrasted against other broadly comparable countries, the threat to Australia…

Is possessing jihadi literature enough to be prosecuted on terrorism charges? Terrorism image from www.shutterstock.com

Jihadist activity has been a primary source of concern for security agencies in the Western world for longer than a decade.

When contrasted against other broadly comparable countries, the threat to Australia from jihadist activity has been small. However, the threat has remained persistent over time.

While 33 individuals have been prosecuted for jihadist related activity in Australia, only two individuals have faced a charge of possessing literature which may facilitate terrorism without also being charged with being a member of a terrorist organisation or engaging in terrorist activity.

The first was in 2004 when Bilal Khazaal was arrested for combining editorial comment with existing jihadist literature to compile a document considered “likely to facilitate terrorism”. (Khazaal was convicted, released on appeal but jailed again in a second trial earlier this year.)

The document promoted methods of assassination for members of governments including America, Britain, Australia and other NATO countries and was published on an internet site endorsed by al Qaeda.

In the original sentencing, Judge Latham noted that whether or not Khazaal “was to engage in terrorist activity himself, entirely misses the point … literature of the type sourced by the prisoner is capable of, and has been shown to, foment terrorist activity”.

This week, a Melbourne man faced court charged with four counts of collecting documents being connected with preparation for, the engagement of a person in, or assistance in, a terrorist act. Reports say the man is seeking bail and plans to fight the charges in a contested committal hearing next year.

In contrast to the Khazaal case, these charges do not involve writing or compiling a document but more simply possessing documents which may facilitate terrorism.

The four charges relate to possession of four editions of the jihadist magazine Inspire and each offence carries a maximum 15-year jail term.

Inspire is a glossy English language jihadist magazine created by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). AQAP has so far produced nine editions with issues 8 and 9 of the magazine released together in May this year.

Issue 8 was the last overseen by founding editor Pakistani-American Samir Khan before he and Anwar al-Awlaki were killed in a drone strike in Yemen. Though AQAP leaders pledged to continue the magazine’s existence post-Khan, a downgrade in quality was clearly evident in the latest edition, beginning with a blatant spelling error on the front cover of issue 9, altering the literal meaning of the title.

The magazine is designed to resonate with individuals who have limited religious knowledge but hold strong political convictions and a determination to act (a statement which describes the majority of jihadists in “western” countries).

In 2011 ASIO Director General David Irvine noted that the targeting of young, English-speaking Muslims is of particular concern to Australia and that Inspire magazine is “intended to resonate with a youthful, audience: the i-jihad generation. It sends them a simple message: "Jihad: just do it!”“.

A significant portion of each edition is dedicated to step by step instructional guides to bomb-making and weapons use. However, it goes further than traditional bomb-making guides such as the Terrorist’s Handbook, the Car Bomb Recognition Guide or The Vortex’s Cook Book which are simply instruction manuals.

Along with glorified stories of mujahedeen fighting internationally, there is also a strong ideological message delivered. It is this ideological component that makes the magazine particularly dangerous in an Australian context.

Historically, convincing a religious authority to sanction violence has been a serious impediment to those wanting to conduct an attack in Australia. Indeed, only one religious figure in Australia (himself only a self-proclaimed Sheikh) has sanctioned jihadist activity locally.

This distinct lack of figures granting authority has been one of the major factors preventing an act of terrorism in Australia. In 2009 a cell was identified as wanting to conduct a suicide attack at Holsworthy Army Barracks.

Yet, despite repeated efforts the group could not find a religious figure to sanction such an attack. Members were forced to attempt to contact al-Shabbab in Somalia to receive permission and this ultimately contributed to the cell’s identification and arrest. (Three men were found guilty of conspiring to prepare for or plan a terrorist attack and one man was acquitted.)

Inspire magazine provides a sanction to commit violence in western countries by publishing the writings and rulings of revered international jihadist figures such as Abu Mus’ab al-Suri and Anwar al-Awlaki. The magazine also promotes action. In edition one, the magazine encouraged “my Muslim brothers in the West is to acquire weapons and learn methods of war. They are living in a place where they can cause great harm to the enemy” (Inspire 1:17).

The following edition stated that “we strongly encourage our brothers to fight jihad on US soil. In fact even if travelling to join the fronts of jihad was accessible, we would still encourage them to perform operations in the West” (Inspire 2: 55).

Hence, the sum of Inspire’s propaganda effort is to portray countries such as Australia as a “legitimate target that may be attacked at any time without any further justification or authorisation required”.

The contents of Inspire magazine presses the very limits of what is acceptable when we promote freedom of speech or expression. If the charges in this current case are proven, it will provide the first instance in Australia where Inspire magazine has been connected to preparation for an act of terrorism.

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18 Comments sorted by

  1. Sean Lamb

    Science Denier

    "The following edition stated that “we strongly encourage our brothers to fight jihad on US soil. In fact even if travelling to join the fronts of jihad was accessible, we would still encourage them to perform operations in the West” (Inspire 2: 55)."

    So are we do understand that Dr Harris-Hogan also possesses copies of this literature and is also in breach of the law? Or is it OK for Anglos to own copies?

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    1. Norm Stone

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Sean Lamb

      Yeah you've go a really good point there Sean. What about all those detectives etc. trolling child porn sites, illegal for other people but ok for them. Lets start a movement to have them all arrested. Why are the police allowed to have automatic weapons when plebs, such as yourself and I are not allowed to have them? And those censors banning violent and sexually explicit material, is that all destroyed the minute it is banned? Boy you really have found a loophole here. This must be ethnicity and religion based and no-one has seen it before! Good on you mate.

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    2. Sean Lamb

      Science Denier

      In reply to Sean Lamb

      I had no idea Dr Harris-Hogan was a police officer, I thought he was an academic. I had better watch what I say so he doesn't start snoping through my ISP records.

      My understanding is this charge only arose because the ASIO's agent provocateur trying to penetrate the group got outed and they didn't have anything else they could charge them with. Instead they resorted to this lame non-charge.

      Obviously if your academic career is contingent on crawling to ASIO you can't say this, but that shouldn't inhibit those of us who have chosen honorable career paths from calling it out.

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  2. David Leigh

    logged in via Facebook

    It would appear Australian government departments are at loggerheads, when it comes to immigration policy. ASIO works hard to try and prevent, or at least get an understanding of, the risks involved with migrant communities of varying ethnicities. On the other hand, policy related to asylum seekers, from counties such as Afghanistan, fails to recognise that a risk is always present, with such integration and subsequent fundamental differences in culture.

    Tribal differences have ruled societies…

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    1. Tim Mulligan
      Tim Mulligan is a Friend of The Conversation.

      logged in via email @gotalk.net.au

      In reply to David Leigh

      Nationalistic rhetoric, although written with what seems like genuine concern, is of more concern to me than the small percentage of migrants inciting violence or breaking the law. A bleaker world than nationalism run wild doesn't have to be imagined, it has been.
      The questions on asylum seekers have been answered many times over, so rather than me repeating those answers I'd suggest the best form of education would be to go and speak to a Hazara, a Tamil or a refugee from South Sudan and hear their personal story. The vast majority of those 'other' people want exactly what Australia has to offer: peace, security and a reasonable future denied them in their former homeland. That they also want to retain some of their own culture and belief is entireiy understandable and reasonable.
      Try the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre if you are in Melbourne. Other bodies no doubt exist elsewhere.

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  3. Tim Mulligan
    Tim Mulligan is a Friend of The Conversation.

    logged in via email @gotalk.net.au

    The rights of the individual versus what is best for society as a whole is a very old story and not at all a 'loophole'. But as already pointed-out the article itself effectively calls for the answer as to who has the right to possess such literature and should such censorship exist. I too would be interested to know where Dr. Harris-Hogan stands on that point and his department's relationship with the Federal Police. Nine issues apparently equals 135 years of jail.

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  4. John Zigar

    Engineer, researcher

    Adolf Hitler's 'Mein Kampf" is banned in Germany as it allegedly incites racism. But the book is not banned online or in other countries as far as I am aware. At what point should we ban a publication? When it incites violence or when it incites ignorance - such as the Watchtower? Do we allow communist propaganda? Whilst I have a problem with the contents of the magazine Inspire, I am not sure jailing fools will make them any smarter. There needs to be more education and eye-opening strategies to combat ignorance.

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  5. Norm Stone

    logged in via Facebook

    I apologise for my previous rather flippant comments but I find it impossible to resist trivial objections. Possession of this material is not about race, religion or membership of the police force. Acquiring this sort of material is for existing converts to this sort of violence or for those who already have at least a predilection. Governments and agencies are desperate to be seen to be doing something. These laws and restrictions serve to enhance the attractiveness of the material and don't in any way, given the state of the modern Internet, stop those who are determined to acquiring it. This looks like a "weapons of mass destruction" moment to me.

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  6. Comment removed by moderator.

  7. Peter Ormonde
    Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Farmer

    It is most disturbing that simply owning or possessing a document could be construed as a proclivity towards terrorism - or a crude notion of jihad.

    Unlikely that this would actually be sufficient for any court - not without additional evidence that goes to the matters of intent or purpose. That is, having such information in one's possession is not adequate - otherwise anyone who has just read or downloaded this article which quotes from Inspire would see each and all of us open to charges…

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    1. Mat Hardy

      Lecturer in Middle East Studies at Deakin University

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      A bit like being in one of those fundamentalist Islamic places and getting locked up just for possessing a Bible..

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    2. oswald bruggemans

      refugee

      In reply to Mat Hardy

      My experience is our own Australian government are in sighting terrorism. Wake up people, the west is terrorism mad. its a excuse . I am a refugee because I expressed my concern . so today they misused public office to a intolerable condition upon me . Australia politics is gone mad! And I say Mad!
      You piss people off and of course people act on this. Some leagaly some not.
      Want to know more write to PO Box 20 Thong Fon Thailand 41310
      What started out by assumptions from Centerlink 7 years ago has today been described as terror upon me and my family. Yet our government fails accountability. Now they do not know how to get out of it. So they terrorise me and my family to discourage my pursuit for compensation. By manipulation, and even holding my personal files to ransom breaching their own judicial decisions.

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  8. Peter Ormonde
    Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Farmer

    Don't even need to bring god into it Mat ... just having a cassette player or laptop or a book in English that the lads with the guns cannot read ...can get you short "shariaed" in parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan ... particularly if you look like me ... that is, obviously a CIA agent. Wind in the Willows will do it.

    Don't even need to bring god into it at all. Not that god has got much to do with any of this stuff anyway. It's fear of difference - them and us.

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  9. Chris Watson

    logged in via Facebook

    "Only when pressed into global conflict - against Islamic values -"

    Since when is conflict against Islamic values? It would be hard to find a Jihadist who did not quote the Koran to justify his actions. See Sura 9, Verse 5, below, bearing in mind that belief in the Holy Trinity makes Christians polytheists in Muslim eyes.

    "When the sacred months are passed, kill those who join other gods with God wherever ye shall find them; and seize them, besiege them and lay wait for them with every kind…

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    1. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Chris Watson

      Feeling better now Chris?

      I was watching a flick on TV the other day recounting the adventures of the Crusaders in the first Crusade. Massacres, butchery slaughter of men women and kids all the way... was hard yakka doing the Lord's bidding back then. Google up Jerusalem or Antioch in the crusades and see how the mercy of God was delivered unto them.

      The Old Testament is chockers with the enemies of Israel being smote, massacred and hauled off as slaves. But that would be Yahweh at work…

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  10. Chris Watson

    logged in via Facebook

    Peter Ormonde:
    I notice that you have not included any Biblical quotes to support your claims. You clearly have read neither the Bible nor the Koran. The passages in the Old Testament in which Israel is advised to slaughter its enemies, refer to specific groups of people who ceased to exist over 2000 years ago.

    The atrocities you describe are not endorsed by Christianity or the New Testament. They occurred when people went against the teachings of their sacred text.
    The atrocities committed by jihadists occur when they follow the teachings of their sacred text.

    Your moral equivalency argument is undermined by the fact that in the present day, there is no school of Christian thought that invokes the Bible to justify violence. On the other hand, attacks by Muslims against other Muslims or non-Muslims, are always supported by some Muslim group or another on the grounds that they have been carried out in accordance with instructions in the Koran.

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    1. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Chris Watson

      Now I wonder why whose neighbours of the chosen people might have "ceased to exist" Chris?

      No expert in these matters like yourself Chris and I'll make ready admissions of ignorance and limited reading. I've read both actually Chris - and a fair bit of buddhist and hindu writings as well (in English I'm afraid) - but of course these make no pretence at being the word of god - that's a peculiar Middle Eastern thing.

      Personally I prefer the Greek Eastern Orthodox Bible myself ... bit more…

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  11. Chris Watson

    logged in via Facebook

    Peter Ormonde:
    "No school of biblical thought that justifies violence? Tell that to the ratbags in the US who take their guns to church, to fundamentalists who urge violence and hatred towards other religions based on their deep understanding of the issues."
    Can you specify any actual instances of these angry fundamentalists using violence against people of other faiths and justifying their actions with quotes from the Bible? There was a massacre at a Sikh temple recently, but I haven't seen…

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