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COAG: Keys Changes to Counter-Terrorism

COAG: Keys Changes to Counter-Terrorism


In this article, I will cite the main areas of interest of a report from the Council of Australian Governments (COAG). The report details the 10th year anniversary of the National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC) and includes a reflection on what has changed, why, and to what degree it has been effective. It includes other organisations such as ASIO and DFAT. To begin, I will break it down into relevant sections and comment on each topic of interest.

COAG Objectives:

“[…] our national efforts are focussed on:
• disrupting attacks
• undermining terrorist activities and
• promoting community cohesion.”

Page 9 tells us exactly what the objectives are: to disrupt attacks, undermine terrorist activities and support networks, and promote community cohesion.

This three-pronged strategy deals with the present terrorist issues, the future-to-be terrorists, and the future community discontent and backlash to said issues. It is a very well-rounded approach to counter-terrorism nationally.

COAG Goals:

“1. disrupt the activities of individuals or groups planning an attack
2. detect and undermine terrorist activity by:
a. blocking the flow of support (finances, goods and people) to or from terrorists and their networks
b. impeding the development of terrorist capability (particularly their tactical and operational security training both directly and online)
c. degrading ideological support for terrorist activities.
3. promote community cohesion and build resilience to radicalisation.”

Page 9 gives us a list of the prior objectives broken down into goals. These goals couple with the COAG objectives but acknowledge greater detail. The picture below gives a visual example of these goals. Further goals expanding beyond terrorism can be found here.


Above: The Spectrum of CT Efforts (taken from cited report).

Key Changes to Counter-Terrorism

Page 20 notes multiple key changes:

“• the increased scale of the threat
• the home-grown aspect
• lower barriers of entry to terrorist groups
• lone actor attacks
• use of everyday items as weapons
• individuals can move rapidly from intent to
• social media
• secure and encrypted communications.”

These changes were mainly introduced by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) including lone-actor attacks, lower barrier to entry, polished propaganda, and social media usage.

Understanding the Threat: Islamist Terrorism

Page 10 gives us a clear enemy: Terroristic or Violent Islamism.

“The terrorist attacks in the United States on 11 September 2001 were a major turning point in Western understanding of the threat from Islamist terrorism.”

This is one thing that Australian Intelligence Services have been clear to demonstrate previously. The threat is identified and recognised, unlike that of many American Intelligence Services. This is one thing Australia does better than other services.

This couples nicely when you consider the growing need to undermine Islamist ideology correlates with undermining not only terrorism but many practices counter to Australian norms and many processes of radicalisation.

Expanding Counter-Terrorism and Related Organisations

The threat adjusts to real-time politics and changes in the international community, and it looks to exploit any window of opportunity in relation to grievances and narratives. Thus, there has been a substantial increase in the capabilities and funding of multiple organisations. These organisations now work together, interconnected and coordinated, in order to defeat terrorism and counter other national security risks, as seen below.


Above: Increasing Roles and Width of Counter-Terrorism in Australia (taken from the cited report and modified by myself).

The two models proposed, on page 30, are the large ‘super-agency’ model or the small, coordinated model. The former seen in the United States with their Department of Homeland Security and the latter seen in the United Kingdom with many regional departments. There is no consensus as to the best practice model. However, identified strengths follow the model of:

  1. Clear government policy.
  2. Representatives from a wide range of agencies.
  3. Senior-level attendance at key coordination meetings including roles such as Counter-Terrorism Coordinator.
  4. Risk groups allocated substantial responsibilities and lead by senior officials.
  5. Reports that are regular and given to all agency heads or deputies in a reference group.
  6. Regular cabinet reporting to ensure continued ministerial oversight, attention, and priority.

A Warning: Lone Wolf Attacks and Metrics – We’re NOT Winning!

The report warns us time and time again of self-initiated, or lone wolf, attacks. These attacks are very difficult to detect and often catch both the public and security apparatus by surprise. It is noted that these attacks are likely to occur in greater propensity and capacity in the future, even for Australia with the number of foreign fighters in and around Australasian, including Indonesia.

In fact, the major warning is that all the metrics are increasing: foreign fighters, known sympathisers, known supporters, passport investigations and cancellations, and other serious investigations. We do not seem to be ‘winning’ against terrorism. We have to work on a range of factors to counter the problem, such as community engagement, youth engagement, counter-messaging, and education (including intercultural and interfaith education) to build community resilience towards, and recognition of, radicalisation.


In conclusion, the COAG report gives us an overview of Counter-Terrorism efforts in Australia. The emerging threats come in the forms of lone wolf attacks and rising trends in radicalisation and terrorism. We are not winning the fight against terrorism. But, that said, there have been huge leaps in coordination, technological advancement, and other innovations that will continue to challenge terrorism and its support networks.

Originally Published on my Blog @


Religious Freedom and Islamic Terrorism: Study Analysis

Religious Freedom and Islamic Terrorism: Study Analysis


If the some of the religious community radicalise and kill people… What do we do? Do we shut down their places of worship? Do we monitor their services? Do we restrict growing religious influence? Do we out-right ban the religion? Do we restrict their freedom of religion?

In this article, I will analyse a study, “Explaining religious terrorism: a data-mined analysis” by Nilay Saiya and Anthony Scime, which may directly answer these questions or give you the academic backing of which to answer them.

The Study

The aforementioned study suggests that religious freedom is negatively correlated with religious terrorism, as any overt restrictions on religion feed into the Islamist narrative – who are then able to portray themselves as valiant heroes fighting oppression:

“[…] The classification data mining techniques used in this study find that a country’s level of religious restrictions is the most significant variable predicting the onset of religious terrorism—twice more important than any of the other variables. The conditions under which a regime is able to ‘‘repress away’’ terrorism appear to be so context-specific that repression cannot generally be adopted by governments as an effective antidote to terrorism. This does not mean that other variables are unimportant, however, as this analysis has shown. In certain combinations, a country’s level of democracy, size of population, land area, geographical location, predominant religious tradition, history of foreign occupation, regime stability and the number of religious minorities matter in conjunction with religious liberty. These findings do not suggest, of course, that religiously free countries never experience religious terrorism or that religiously restrictive ones always do. The point is, nonetheless,that efforts to restrict religion do not always succeed in diminishing religion’s influence. Our theory explains why this is the case. Quite often such restrictions serve to foster radicalization and give credibility to the claim made by extremists that their faith is under attack. Repressive environments that strangle religious freedom and independent thinking serve as a natural breeding ground for extremists. When states prevent religious groups from practicing their faith, such groups are likelier to turn to violence as it is seen as the only way to bring about change.”

Reference: Explaining religious terrorism: A data-mined analysis.


The study gives it to us straight: restricting religious freedom is directly correlated with an increase in terror-related activities by said restricted religious community. Extrapolating along these lines, this is probably why we see many movements appear in places like Uzbekistan, such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). The narrative of violence that the Islamists feed off, within their religion, is strongly connected to the oppression narrative. Uzbekistan has been entangled in cases of mass arrest, overt surveillance of Mosques, and other acts which may be seen as persecutory.

Some interpretations of jihad state that jihad is fighting oppression within and around oneself. What this confirms is that it is quite a supremacist, aggressive, and expansionistic religion, and that any concern by a host population could lead to perceived persecution and backlash violence. This is the “abused wife” predicament: do you continue or do you do something about it? If both lead to violence, which one is predicted to eventually end the violence? The key point is that a particularist view of religious doctrine leads to one ultimate conclusion: to fight oppression of their religious inheritance and freedoms. This on its own promotes religious unity for a common and just cause, in which the community may support, but also one that gives way to violence and potential acts of terrorism.

Some authours have speculated that therefore religious freedom is the best weapon against Islamic terrorism. I disagree, as such interpretations of scripture only feed the oppression narratives of governmental control and religious strangulation. Other oppression narratives may include disbelief in monotheism, shirk, et cetera, which feed violent tendencies in scripture without governmental intervention.

In other words, terrorism is not only affected by top-down approaches but from the ground-up also. To simply suggest that complete religious freedom will dismantle all the narratives that extremists and terrorists exploit is not only naive but bluntly incorrect. However, it is about time that we recognize the “Energizing the Base” theory in action. Clearly, Islamists are “energizing” a population not only based upon governmental actions but upon inter-community and individual understanding of religious pathways to violence. Disrespectful top-down approaches speed up and reinforce that process.


The study cites these recommendations:

  • The inclusion of religious groups and individuals in policy-making and other governmental processes.
  • The usage of religious groups as a buttress between extremism and the oppression narratives at play.
  • For policymakers to carefully and tactfully consider religious liberty as a priority in regards to countering the oppression narrative exploited by extremists.
  • The implied stances are that outright banning, discriminating against, or targetting certain religious groups, will lead to further violence and terrorism. The “abused wife” dilemma.


In conclusion, this study suggests that overt restrictions on religion may lead to more violence. Violence in this capacity, which is often seen as retaliatory and just, and thus supported by a greater population, and may lead to an even bigger terrorist movement. To dismantle the bite of the oppression narrative, religious freedom and liberty must be looked upon carefully and tactfully by policy-makers. But we must also recognise that terrorism is not simply top-down and that other narratives fill the void from the bottom-up.

Originally Published on my Blog @

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