Australian Neo-Jihadist Terrorism

My research aimed to map and analyse the Australian neojihadist network by conducting a social network analysis. Rather than islands of non-communicating cells the analysis uncovered a small interconnected network of Australian neojihadists which transcends time and specific operations. It revealed a close, insular network of extremists connected by blood, marriage and close friendships. The interconnectedness of the network is similar to the neojihadist network present in the United Kingdom but is vastly different from that found in the United States (Barbieri & Klausen 2012).Though several prominent facilitators are identifiable within the Australian network, it is a grass roots enlistment process rather than any form of top-down recruitment which enables individuals to join this network. These findings confirm Horgan and Taylor (2006) and much other research, which contends that terrorism (particularly neojihadist terrorism), is primarily influenced by close personal relationships and not adherence to a strict ideology. Indeed, studies conducted on Fatah, Hamas, Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Turkish terrorists have found that “the key scope condition for their joining the terrorist organization was having a friend or relative in it” (Abrahms 2008, 98). Hence, recruitment into the Australian neojihadist network follows the recruitment patterns seen in many other terrorist organisations around the world.

This research involved a detailed examination of the structure and relationships of those within a neojihadist cell arrested in Melbourne in 2005. This group formed a star or hub style cell with a distinct internal heirarchy. Operational control of the cell came from a central command consisting of three key people, with one principle ideological leader. Any conversations regarding a possible attack and almost all conversations regarding operational requirements or planning involve one or more of these men, and they are clearly the most recorded and most connected individuals. They are also clearly the three strongest relationships within the group. The remainder of the cell was divided between three tiers (inner circle, middle tier and periphery) and contained two distinct cliques within its substructure. The cell was also far from a homogenous entity with internal disagreements common. Additionally, an element of the inner circle maintained extensive contact with a neojihadist cell developing simultaneously in Sydney. Analysis revealed that these interactions were primarily conducted with the ideological figurehead of the Melbourne cell who provided the Sydney group with leadership, inspiration and spiritual guidance. Other members of the cell, including all members of the central command, also provided a degree of operational support to their Sydney counterparts.

By documenting and analysing the network’s structure and analysing the interactions of an operational cell this research assists in understanding how home-grown neojihadist cells develop and behave. While some elements of this case-study are unique to the Australian circumstances there are several principles which can potentially be applied to further understand the terrorist threat in many societies around the world. This includes the fact that operational cells appear to contain coherent, hierarchical substructures that may not be immediately apparent to outside observers. Moreover, cells and their substructures clearly do not manifest in isolation and may be connected to either past or concurrent operational cells or international networks. This research demonstrates the utility of Social Network Analysis in understanding the inner-workings, group dynamics and leadership of individual cells. Furthermore, this analysis shows that access to detailed information such as telephone intercept and listening device transcripts as well as court documents allows for a far more nuanced understanding of the dynamics within cells. It also reduces the need for more subjective judgements to be made by analysts.

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