25 May 2017







SUBJECT: Terrorist profiling.


DAVID SPEERS, INTERVIEWER: Labor MP Anne Aly is an expert in counter-radicalisation. A Professor who’s spent years advising governments around the world and still works with Muslim communities, worried about individuals who appear to be heading down the wrong path. She says the profile of terrorists is changing. We spoke earlier.

Anne Aly, thank you very much for your time. Look, we’ve been fighting Islamic extremism, both at home and abroad, for many years now. How has the profile changed of the sort of attackers that are involved?

ANNE ALY, MEMBER FOR COWAN: Well I would have said, maybe -- you’re right first of all, that we have been fighting it for many years, you know this is what we could term the ‘religious wave’ of terrorism happening since the 1970s or so, but the profile, if I was to take 10 years ago, the profile that we’re looking at is certainly somebody who was older. Somebody who really had a fairly unremarkable history, and unremarkable background. You know, the kind of person that neighbours always say ‘oh, I would never have suspected’ you know, that kind of person.

INTERVIEWER: Is that the al-Qaeda profile?

ALY: Very much the al-Qaeda profile, because the al-Qaeda profile was older and tended to come to violence through religion. So at first become, I guess, radicalised through a particular extreme interpretation of religion, and then accept violence as part of that. Over the last 5 years, and particularly with the rise of ISIS, what we’re seeing is a much younger profile. So they are specifically targeting a younger cohort, but also younger people who, time and time again, we get the same thing: they were already known to law enforcement -- not necessarily for terrorist behaviours, possibly for other kind of violent or criminal behaviours -- and they didn’t really have a lot of knowledge of religion. You know they smoked, smoke drugs or took drugs, drank alcohol, those kinds of things.

INTERVIEWER: Things that weren’t in line with the Islamic faith.

ALY: Yeah, so they weren’t what we would say ‘cognitively radicalised’, they were ‘behaviourally radicalised’ to violence first and then come to the religion to justify their violence, secondly.

INTERVIEWER: So it’s the violence, the desire for violence, that’s the motivator these days --

ALY: Exactly.

INTERVIEWER: And then religion is tacked on to that.

ALY: Absolutely. So we kind of have a turning-around where 10 years ago, predominantly it would have been the religious mobiliser would have been the primary mobiliser towards violence. Whereas now we’ve got the violence mobiliser being the primary mobiliser with religion tacked on.

INTERVIEWER: Why are we seeing so many second generation Muslim migrants involved? I mean, whether it was this week in Manchester, Salman Abedi was born to British parents from Libya; last year in Orlando when 49 people were killed it was Omar Mateen, born in the US but to parents from Afghanistan. Here in Australia, those who were arrested over the Federation Square plot around Christmas time, born in Australia most of them to Lebanese parents. Why is it that second generation -- we’re talking here about young men who feel like they’ve got a split identity?

ALY: I would say that’s part of it. I would also add on to that, not just second generation but also convert. So younger converts to religion seem to be the two biggest cohorts, particularly in western countries. Look, I’m always sceptical of theories that are put out there as, kind of, short-hand explanations for this. Things like the marginalisation, kind of, theory: ‘Oh they’re all marginalised and disenfranchised, you know, they’re all unemployed’ all of that kind of stuff. That’s not necessarily so. And it’s particularly not so for some of the converts who go on to become terrorist attackers or violent extreme actors. You know, part of it is that identity but the other part of it is young men, in particular, have a strong desire to belong to a group. Groupthink, okay? Which is why when we have things like or get young people involved in recreational sporting types of programs that have groupthink, that have kind of teamwork around them, they are positive pathways away from a pathway to violence. So part of it is that questioning their identity, the other part of it, there really aren’t very many strong male leadership role models within the community. We don’t understand, or don’t have a good grasp of what leadership is within the Muslim community.

INTERVIEWER: That’s an interesting point.

ALY: It is, and it’s something that I think we really need to work on. Is looking at what is leadership and who are the leaders. Oftentimes, the people that the media tends to hold up as leaders and as spokespeople really have no clout, particularly with these young people. So --

INTERVIEWER: What about, you know, sporting icons who are of the Islamic faith?

ALY: Yeah they’ve probably got more influence than, say, some of the Sheikhs that are being touted as leaders and spokespeople for Muslim communities.

INTERVIEWER: They’re not really seen by the young men as their leaders --

ALY: Not really. And the other thing is the kind of nature of Islam. So Islam is a, kind of, a very -- you know we don’t have a Vatican, we don’t have a central pillar of authority, if you like, so really anyone can stand up and say ‘I’m a Sheikh’. Anyone can put out a fatwa, or a decree, especially online. That’s just the nature of the religion; it has a very flat structure to it. And so that makes it very easy for people to come in and claim some form of religious credibility --

INTERVIEWER: Why do people follow that though? I mean, help us understand why someone who may not have standing or authority can do that and people will follow it?

ALY: I think it’s the appeal. If they’re charismatic and the Sheikh at the Mosque isn’t charismatic. You know, if people are in search of something that, kind of, fits in with their own grievances, with their own agitation. So we’ve got this -- the common story is that these young men might go to the Mosque and then there’ll be another group of young people, or a particular young preacher for example, or young self-styled or self-declared Sheikh who’ll say: ‘Come here, look, look at your Sheikh at the Mosque. He doesn’t talk about violence. He doesn’t talk about jihad. He doesn’t talk about all this stuff. Come and, come and have -- come on let’s go play football.’ And they’ll go and play soccer together or something, and then he’ll go ‘Let’s go pray’, and they’ll go pray together, and then he’ll go ‘Let’s talk about politics, because, you know, the Sheikh at the Mosque, he doesn’t talk about this stuff’. So, it’s that kind of, you know, it’s very kind of bringing them in through --

INTERVIEWER: A close friendship?

ALY: A friendship, a brotherhood-type, belonging, all of those things. And doesn’t necessarily mean that that person is disenfranchised, or that they’re unemployed, or that they’re particularly marginalised. But even the most well-integrated person will go through questions of identity and where they fit and where they belong.

INTERVIEWER: I can understand that to the point where ‘Yup, let’s go play football and pray and talk about politics’, but then when it gets to ‘why don’t you put a backpack on and blow yourself up’ I think that’s when most people think --

ALY: Wow, yeah.

INTERVIEWER: How do you get to that point?

ALY: Exactly. Well and that’s the thing, that’s why the trend has changed. Because it is people who are already violent who are doing that. Who are going out and committing acts of violence. But on that point of, you know, the suicide bombers, if we have a look at the Manchester -- the recent attacks in Manchester -- we haven’t seen that kind of attack with a suicide bomb for a while. And that’s probably because of the kind of coordination that it takes in order to, and the expertise that it takes in order to --

INTERVIEWER: Making the bomb and detonating it at the time you want.

ALY: Exactly, all that kind of planning. You know, indications are that it wasn’t a lone attacker or somebody acting alone --

INTERVIEWER: Which, you’re just getting to this question though, there’s obviously something that flips from, you know, ‘Let’s be part of this group’ to ‘Let’s carry out an atrocity’ is there something in the religion that’s used to appeal to convince someone to do that?

ALY: I think, you know, I think it would be wrong to completely dismiss ideology and the role of ideology and religion in this. There are certainly parts of the religion that do justify, or that can be used, that are easily manipulated to justify --

INTERVIEWER: They are elements -- quotes in the Quran for example that can be used to convince someone --

ALY: And in the hadith as well, the doctrines. So there are, and they can be easily manipulated to justify violence. But there’s also this idea of a moral disengagement, which I’ve written a lot about. But it’s basically like if I see you as my enemy, and I blame you for everything, and then I also -- the next bit is seeing you as less than human. Calling you a cockroach. Calling you vermin. Seeing you as cockroach and vermin is that element of disgust. So if you see a cockroach and you squish it, you don’t squish the cockroach because you’re angry at it. You don’t squish the cockroach because you’re, you know, you have an issue with it. You squish the cockroach because you’re disgusted by it.

INTERVIEWER: Because it’s a pest.

ALY: Because it’s a pest.

INTERVIEWER: And so this is fed in to their minds --

ALY: Absolutely.

INTERVIEWER: That the people that they’re targeting aren’t really human.

ALY: Exactly. And that’s -- they justify killing in that way. And it’s not just with violent jihadists; you get this with white supremacist movements. I mean, throughout history any terrorist movement has relied on that pattern, or that blueprint, for cognitive radicalisation. You are a victim. The other person is your enemy. They are responsible for all your grievances. They are less than human. The only way to protect yourself and your people is to kill this vermin.

INTERVIEWER: The challenge we’re dealing with right now, of course, is with radical Islamic extremism. When we look at now the approach when it comes to tackling this, clearly within the Muslim community there needs to be a lot of focus. And there has been. But are we getting it right? And how easy is it for the community to spot a young man who’s heading down the path, being attracted to that sort of group organisation. Is it easy, is it difficult?

ALY: Look I think that in terms of the community itself, and family and friends, are certainly the best placed to do that. And in act if you speak to our law enforcement agencies, they rely very strongly on cooperation from the community and they’ve had that cooperation as well. You know, with reports from community and concerns raised from the community. I still get, probably about on a weekly or monthly basis, a concerned person -- whether it be a parent, or a family member -- asking me about somebody they know and asking me if I know of any support that they can get, any help they can get --

INTERVIEWER: What, so ringing you to say ‘my cousin/ brother, whatever it is, class mate, I’m worried about who they’re hanging out with, what should I do?’ What do you say to them?

ALY: Well the first thing I want to do is meet their family. Because 9 times out of 10 there’s something in the family structure, and if you work with the family, the family is best-placed to: first of all recognise any significant changes in an individual’s behaviour, but also secondly to bring that person back in to the family fold and re-socialise them to normal behaviours.


ALY: And usually, the first thing they do is disassociate from families. You know --

INTERVIEWER: Classic first step. Then we look at what the government’s doing that’s progressively announced a number of steps when it comes to counter-radicalisation, the last one in December was a school kit for teachers, for students, to help them be aware of radicalisation going on in the school. Do you think the government’s getting it right?

ALY: See, I’m very very concerned about those kinds of things where we can’t train up teachers to recognise the signs of radicalisation. That’s the thing.

INTERVIEWER: Why can’t we do that?

ALY: Because they’re teachers. And the signs that they’re looking for are the same signs of things like: child abuse, sexual abuse, depression. All forms of other things that could be indicators of other things. Teachers shouldn’t be doing this work. The problem is that here in Australia we have a real dearth of expertise, knowledge, experience, and people who can speak on this with any knowledge. And if you have a look at the inquest in to the Sydney siege, it’s very evident there. Where the psychiatrist that was advising police had no knowledge --

INTERVIEWER: I was going to ask you about this; I mean that’s a big problem --

ALY: It’s a huge problem.

INTERVIEWER: In those situations, and admittedly, everyone’s an expert with hindsight, but in those situations it is rare for a terrorist just holding people hostage for a long period of time. They normally just kill them. But you need better trained psychiatrists there --

ALY: And people who understand this partic-- this is not -- general psychology can’t apply here. This is a particular, violent strain. You need people with knowledge, understanding, experience, expertise. There’s a fellow named MARK SAGEMAN who used to be a CIA agent and then became an academic and he puts it beautifully. He says: ‘intelligence knows everything and understands nothing. Academics understand everything and know nothing’. And that’s just a perfect example of where we need more information sharing, and where we’ve got all of this information but they don’t know how to understand that information.

INTERVIEWER: So what should we do? I mean, there’s obviously a role for schools to pick up signs --

ALY: Absolutely there’s a role for schools.

INTERVIEWER: But the, what, feed that in to someone more expert who can then make better judgements?

ALY: Yeah, look, I think this has been tried in the UK. And it’s led to a real hyper-sensitivity among teachers. Like, you know the stories of a 6 year-old kid report to police because he said, you know, something about ‘tourism’ at his house but he spelled it wrongly and the teacher said it was ‘terrorism’. These kinds of hyper-sensitive things -- and the issue of the kid bringing in the clock in the US and all of those kinds of things. So rather than go on the model where teachers are trained -- which they can’t do -- like you need 10 years of experience in the field to really know, to really pick up on this stuff, you can’t do it in a 2-hour session. The role of schools to play, to recognise schools are primary socialising agents. Schools should be playing a role in conflict management and teaching young people about how to deal with all of these things they see, all of these conflicts that they have, in non-aggressive, non-violent ways. That is the best role for schools in this. And in fact, I used to train teachers. I’ve trained teachers in Nigeria, in Jordan and in Pakistan on doing that in their classrooms. And I’ve found that that’s a much more effective model, and a much more effective approach, than giving teachers a 2-hour training session on ‘oh, if little Muhammed, you know, draws a picture of a woman with a face covering, call the police’.

INTERVIEWER: And finally, Anne Aly, it’s fascinating hearing you talk about all of this, what do you say to those like Pauline Hanson who say ‘just shut the door, don’t let any Muslim migrants in. That’ll fix it.’

ALY: It won’t fix it. Because they’re not radicalised overseas and then coming here: they’re radicalised here. So there’s more that we need to be doing here. We cannot abrogate our responsibility in this. We have a responsibility here. We have a responsibility for keeping Australians safe. And you can’t keep Australians safe just by shutting the door when there’s already an issue inside the house.

INTERVIEWER: Once again, thank you very much for joining us and you’re right, there’s a lot of complexity to the challenge we face, but I appreciate you talking us through it. Thank you.

ALY: Thank you David.