Episode 11: A conversation on terrorism in Australia, with Levi West – part 1

levi-west-conversation-headshotIn this episode, Andrew talks with Levi West about terrorism in Australia.

Levi West is the Director of Terrorism Studies at Charles Sturt University.

This is the first episode for 2017, and has a different format to earlier episodes. Instead of a straight Q & A interview, we’ve gone for a more conversational format, with the host and guest both contributing. This episode presents the first half of the conversation, discussing terrorism in Australia from the 1960s up until 2013.

We discuss the international development of terrorism and its Australian manifestations, demonstrated by some Yugoslav, Ananada Marga, Palestinian, Armenian, far-left and far-right groups that sometimes engaged in small-scale political violence in Australia.

We then discuss transitions that occurred in the 1990s, with high-profile terror attacks such as the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (by jihadists), the 1995 Tokya subway sarin gas attack (by the Aum Shinrikyo sect), the 1995 Oklahoma bombing (by far-right extremists), and the 1998 US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania (by jihadists). These attacks had implications for Australia, particularly with a local jihadist scene emerging, though terrorism rarely featured in political discussion at the time.

We then turn to the post-9/11 environment, as global jihadism became the predominant terrorist threat to Australia, posing a more serious prospect of mass casualty attacks than earlier threats had.

We discuss how jihadism within Australia evolved up until 2013, and how various political developments (such as the seizure or loss of territory), strategic shifts (through the writings of jihadist theoreticians), and counter-terrorism responses (including increased resources and powers for security agencies) shaped the threat.

The impact of the Syrian civil war, the rise of “Islamic State”, and controversies over counter-terrorism powers, are covered in the next episode.

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Episode 9: Forensic science and human rights in Afghanistan, with Zabi Mazoori

zabimazooriheadshotFor this episode, Kate interviewed Zabi Mazoori, who coordinates the Afghanistan project for Physicians for Human Rights’ International Forensic Program.

In 2001, he fled persecution by the Taliban and sought asylum in Australia. He returned to Afghanistan to pursue human rights work in 2008.

Zabi Mazoori spent two years working at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, specialising in transitional justice. He also consulted for Physicians for Human Rights, where he facilitated the Paraprofessional Mass Grave Site Team and Basic Human Osteology Training conducted in 2010 at the Afghan National Police Academy. He is also one of the founders of the Afghanistan ForensiceScience Organization and a founding member of the Transitional Justice Coordination Group.

In this episode, Kate and Zabi discussed the development of forensic training in Afghanistan for documenting and preserving evidence in mass grave and massacre exhumations. They discuss how this helps to prosecute perpetrators of violence, some of whom are still in power, and to ensure dignity to victims by enabling proper burials of loved ones.

They also discuss how hymen-examination for virginity-testing emerged as a forensic issue, and how this is a scientifically invalid process. The Afghanistan Forensic Science Organization gained support from the ulama to call for a total ban of such tests.

At the end, Zabi describes major changes that have occurred in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban and highlights gaps in development, particularly in higher education, which Zabi describes as integral to the country’s future development.

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Episode 3: Understanding terrorism in Indonesia, with Noor Huda Ismail

Noor Huda headshotFor this episode, Andrew spoke to Noor Huda Ismail, an Indonesian author, film-maker, activist, and PhD candidate.

Huda set up several non-government rehabilitation programs for terrorists released from jail in Indonesia, to help prevent them from becoming involved in violent extremism again. He’s now based in Australia, studying the involvement of Indonesians with the “Islamic State” in Syria and Iraq.

The episode begins by discussing Noor Huda’s journey into this world. We talk about his teenage years in a boarding school in a central Java that was run by Abdullah Sungkar and Abu Baku Bashir. Sungkar and Bashir were members of an Indonesian jihadist movement called Darul Islam and would become the co-founders of the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI).

Several students in this school were recruited into JI, trained in Afghanistan, and later carried out bombings in Indonesia in the early 2000s. But Huda’s life went in a very different direction.

Huda explains how he felt compelled to help tackle terrorism in Indonesia. He was inspired by non-government efforts he saw working in Northern Ireland, and tried to set up similar programs in Indonesia. Not all of these worked, and he explains several of the successes and failures in this episode.

We also talk about the evolution of terrorism in Indonesia, strengths and weaknesses of the state’s counter-terrorism efforts, how the Syrian civil war and the rise of the “Islamic State” has changed the threat, and how he conducts research on this.

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