Islamic State claims Afghanistan attack as Mike Pompeo holds his final peace talks


As mortar shells slammed into a residential area of Afghanistan’s capital, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has held what are likely his last meetings with Taliban and Afghan Government negotiators trying to negotiate peace.

The attack in Kabul, claimed by Islamic State militants, killed eight people and wounded 31 people on Saturday.

The assault came as peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan Government were underway in Qatar, where Mr Pompeo told Afghan Government negotiators that Washington would “sit on the side and help where we can”.

Two Taliban officials told the Associated Press the warring sides have found common ground on which to move the stalled talks forward.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorised to speak to journalists, did not elaborate.

‘Be vigilant about the spoilers’

Relatives carry the dead body of a boy who was killed during Kabul’s mortar shell attack.(AP: Rahmat Gul)

In Kabul, at least one of the 23 mortar rounds hit inside the Iranian embassy compound.

No-one was wounded, but it damaged the main building, the embassy said.

The local Islamic State affiliate issued a statement claiming the attack that targeted the so-called Green Zone in Kabul, which houses foreign embassies, the presidential palace and Afghan military compounds, according to the SITE Intelligence Group.

Abdullah Abdullah, the head of Afghanistan’s High Council for Reconciliation, condemned the Kabul attack in a tweet, calling it a “cowardly” act.

The council oversees Kabul’s negotiations with the Taliban in Doha.

Pakistan, whose Prime Minister Imran Khan visited Kabul on Tuesday for the first time since he came to office, condemned the attack and warned “it is important to be vigilant against the spoilers who are working to undermine the peace efforts”, but he did not identify the spoilers.

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Taliban refuse ceasefire as US withdraws more troops

A group of men wearing traditional Afghan clothing walk through a brightly lit lobby.
US-mediated talks between the Taliban and Kabul have been marred by a surge in violence in Afghanistan.(AP: Hussein Sayed)

The US, alongside coalition forces, invaded Afghanistan in 2001 in the wake of Al Qaeda’s September 11 attacks, masterminded by Osama bin Laden, then a guest of Afghanistan’s Taliban government.

These troops have remained in the country ever since, and it has become America’s longest war.

Prior to becoming President, Donald Trump had repeatedly called for the US to pull its troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and as Commander-In-Chief, he vowed to “end the era of endless wars”.

He has not managed to achieve complete withdrawal in either country, but he has managed to reduce the scale of US engagement.

Last week, Washington announced it would withdraw another estimated 2,500 troops before the middle of January, leaving about 2,000 soldiers in Afghanistan.

In Doha, Mr Pompeo met with the co-founder of the Taliban, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who signed the peace agreement with Washington in February ahead of the peace talks.

Incoming Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
The tenure of Mr Pompeo will end from the inauguration of president-elect Biden in January, 2021.(Flickr: Gage Skidmore)

Taliban spokesperson Mohammad Naeem tweeted that further prisoner releases were discussed in the meeting, in addition to those that the two sides committed to ahead of peace talks under the US deal.

Mr Naeem said the Taliban also repeated its demand that their leaders be removed from the United Nations sanctions list.

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For most Afghans, the overriding concern has been a sharp rise in violence this year and a surge of attacks by the Taliban against Afghanistan’s beleaguered security forces since the start of peace talks in September.

The Taliban have, however, held to their promise not to attack US and NATO troops.

The US’s planned troop withdrawal has lent greater urgency to the negotiations and to the calls for a reduction in violence, which includes a demand for a ceasefire by Kabul.

But the Taliban have refused and said a ceasefire will be part of further negotiations.

ABC/AP



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American who stopped ‘Islamic State’ train attack hospitalised in Paris | World News


An American man who was due to testify about his role in the capture of an “Islamic State” operative aboard a high-speed train has been hospitalised, according to his lawyer.

Spencer Stone helped avert a potential mass killing on a fast train from Amsterdam to Paris in 2015.

His lawyer, Thibault de Montbrial, has said that his witness was hospitalised after he flew in to Paris.

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French lawyer Thibault de Montbrial is representing the US soldiers that helped foil a terror attack on an Amsterdam-Paris train in 2015

It remains unclear what exactly happened to Mr Stone – with his representation citing medical privacy.

Mr Stone – a 23-year-old US airman at the time – was among several passengers that helped subdue attacker Ayoub El Khazzani on the train.

Their actions inspired Clint Eastwood to direct the Hollywood film The 15:17 to Paris based on the attack.

Eastwood was denied the opportunity to testify by a French court yesterday.

It was thought he could discuss the authenticity of the scenes in his film.

The actor-turned-director cast the Americans who intervened – Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler – to play themselves in his 2018 film, based on a book published by the three friends recounting their experience.

The American men who helped foil a terror attack receive the Hero Award from actor/director Clint Eastwood in 2016 Pic: Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Image:
The American men who helped foil a terror attack receive the Hero Award from actor/director Clint Eastwood in 2016

On the first day of the trial – 17 November – Mr De Montbrial, representing the Americans, said the “terror attack could have killed up to 300 people based on the number of ammunition that was found”.

He added that – given the scale of what could have happened – it was “one of the most terrifying Islamist terror attacks in 2015”.

Meanwhile, El Khazzani’s defence lawyer Sarah Mauger-Poliak said her client was eager to show how sorry he was.

Spencer Stone was unable to testify for medical reasons, according to his lawyer
Image:
Spencer Stone was unable to testify for medical reasons, according to his lawyer

She said: “I believe there’s a certain impatience on his part to demonstrate his remorse.”

Sarah Mauger-Poliak added that El Khazzani wanted to speak with the victims’ families, if the judge would permit it.

El Khazzani, 31, is charged with attempted terrorist murder for the foiled attack. Three suspected accomplices are also on trial.

If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.



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Muslims shouldn’t marry non-Muslims & can only do so after seeking official permission, rules Russian Islamic body



Russian Muslims are prohibited from interfaith marriage, unless given permission by the local mufti. This follows a ruling by the Council of Ulema, which concluded that marriages with Jews and Christians are inadmissible.

The Council of Ulema is a group of clerics and scholars, part of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Russia.

Although passed in November 2019, the council’s theological decision was only published online this week. The conclusion states that marriages with “representatives of the people of the book [Jews and Christians]” are only possible with agreement from the local mufti.




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According to the published document, the council believes that “interfaith marriages are characterized by the emergence of a number of problems,” including difficulties with raising children in the spirit of the Islamic faith, and the likelihood that the marriage will lead to the child not becoming a Muslim.

Following the decision, believers willing to marry from outside the faith can receive permission, but only under certain conditions. In particular, the body decided that non-Muslim women willing to “follow the precepts of the Holy Quran” can wed a Muslim man. However, it is unacceptable for a Muslim woman to marry a non-Muslim man, regardless of his views and beliefs.

On Wednesday, Salah Haji Mezhiev, the mufti of the majority-Muslim Chechen Republic, noted that the prohibition is not controversial, and is something “everyone knows” is forbidden.

Despite the Council’s theological conclusion, in practice, marriages between Russian Muslims and Christians are likely to continue. According to Roman Silantyev, an Islamic expert, there are four schools of law in Sunni Islam, and just three of them prohibit interfaith marriage. The one which doesn’t have this rule, Hanafi, is the most popular in Russia.




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“It turns out that the theological conclusion of the Spiritual Administration of Russia contradicts the school to which almost all their believers belong,” Silantyev said. “The late Valiulla Yakupov [deputy mufti of Tatarstan], he had a Christian wife, and a number of Muslim leaders have wives who have not changed their religion.”

Islam is the second biggest religion in Russia, behind Orthodox Christianity.

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UAE announces loosening of Islamic laws for personal freedoms


The United Arab Emirates has announced a major overhaul of the country’s Islamic personal laws, allowing unmarried couples to cohabitate, loosening alcohol restrictions and criminalising so-called “honour killings”.

The broadening of personal freedoms reflects the changing profile of a country that has sought to bill itself as a skyscraper-studded destination for Western tourists, fortune-seekers and businesses despite its legal system based on a hard-line interpretation of Islamic law.

The changes also reflect the efforts of the Emirates’ rulers to keep pace with a rapidly changing society at home.

The announcement also follows a historic US-brokered deal to normalise relations between the UAE and Israel, which is expected to bring an influx of Israeli tourists and investment.

Changes include scrapping penalties for alcohol consumption, sales and possession for those 21 and over.

The legal reforms were announced on state-run WAM news agency and detailed in state-linked newspaper The National.

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Israel signs agreements with UAE, Bahrain at White House.

Previously, individuals needed a liquor license to purchase, transport or have alcohol in their homes.

The new rule would apparently allow Muslims who have been barred from obtaining licenses to drink alcoholic beverages freely.

Another amendment allows for “cohabitation of unmarried couples”, which has long been a crime in the UAE.

Authorities, especially in the more free-wheeling financial hub of Dubai, tend to look the other way when it comes to foreigners, but the threat of punishment still lingered for such behaviour.

The Government also decided to get rid of laws protecting “honour crimes” a widely criticised tribal custom in which a male relative may evade prosecution for assaulting a woman seen as “dishonouring” a family.

The punishment for a crime committed to eradicate a woman’s “shame” for promiscuity or disobeying religious and cultural strictures will now be the same for any other kind of assault.

In a country where expatriates outnumber citizens nearly nine to one, the amendments will permit foreigners to avoid Islamic sharia courts on issues like marriage, divorce and inheritance.

The reforms come as the UAE gets ready to host the high-stakes World Expo.

The event is planned to bring a flurry of commercial activity and some 25 million visitors to the country, after it was pushed back a year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

AP



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Islamic State attacks in Europe risk a violent backlash from the far right


The attack in Vienna this week — where an armed assailant killed four people and injured others — was claimed by the Islamic State and was one in a string of recent attacks in Europe this week, following three other jihadist motivated killings in Paris and Nice.

The perpetrator of the Vienna attack was another frustrated traveller: he was convicted of terrorism charges last year for attempting to travel to Syria to fight for the Islamic State.

Like previous frustrated travellers, he chose to follow the late Islamic State leaders Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s call for followers to commit attacks wherever they are able.

The attacker had complied with court ordered rehabilitation programs and was released early from prison. The data shows that there is a lower risk of recidivism for terrorism offences, yet he still went on to commit violence.

This demonstrates the enduring appeal of the jihadist cause despite the Islamic State’s territorial defeat.

But it also points to the potential for reciprocal radicalisation — where the jihadist threat provokes a far-right backlash. This could threaten the cohesion of multicultural societies, driving individuals to extreme positions and creating a loop of cyclical responsive violence and cumulative extremism.

This phenomenon of how extremist actors or groups respond to, and fuel extremist sentiment in relation to each other, is what extremist scholars refer to as reciprocal radicalisation or cumulative extremism.

A swastika burns as a group of men give the Hitler salute
The reciprocal radicalisation of right wing groups following an Islamist attack is a concern.(Reuters: Go Nakamura)

The rise of right-wing extremism

While the jihadist threat is enduring and has remained at the top of intelligence and law enforcement risk profiles despite the collapse of the Islamic State and weak al Qaeda leadership, the data has also shown that there has been as much as a 320 per cent increase in right-wing extremist attacks in Europe, America and Australasia over the past five years.

European Union reports have also shown a doubling of arrests of right-wing extremist actors.

The increase in right-wing extremism is due to many reasons.

The 2016 election of US President Donald Trump has emboldened many far-right actors who commit racially or ethnically targeted violence.

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This includes enduring anti-Semitism and the exploitation of technology platforms to create extremist online echo chambers which foster radicalisation. It has also led to a disillusionment with the neo-liberal consensus and the democratic process. These people have been pushed peoples towards extreme right groups which promote vigilantism, authoritarianism and nativism.

But an additional factor driving right-wing extremism is the growing and mainstreaming of Islamophobia fuelled by continuing jihadist attacks.

Violent extremists on the right — including the perpetrator of the Christchurch attacks — have justified their violence as revenge that responds to jihadist violence.

The far right and extreme right believe that the jihadist actors represent Islam and Muslim culture and believe that the West should be protected from Islamisation and what they believe is an influx of Muslim immigration.

They do not view these jihadist terrorist attacks for what they are — extremist outliers.

Rather they help justify their belief in white racial superiority and that Europe or the majority white countries of the New World should curb immigration — especially from Muslim majority countries, claiming they aren’t compatible with Western culture.

Far right and extreme right adherents also perceive these jihadist attacks as justifying the “great replacement” conspiracy theory that so many of them believe in. This conspiracy theory posits that “international liberal elites” are intentionally encouraging immigration and have used globalisation as a means to “replace” the native population of Europe.

The counter jihad movement

These right-wing actors also position themselves as part of a broader “counter jihad movement”. This is a collection of European and North American anti Muslim movements which — citing jihadist attacks in the West — believe that Western civilisation is under attack from Islam.

In a crude rehash of the clash of civilisations argument, the counter jihad movement claims that it seeks to prevent growing Islamisation and jihadism in the West.

Right-wing extremism and far-right movements are driven by more than just their response to jihadist terrorism.

Jacinda Ardern dressed in a head scarf surrounded by Muslim women
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern vowed to stamp out online extremism in the wake of the Christchurch attacks.(Reuters: Edgar Su)

The cumulative or reciprocal radicalisation that drives them is real phenomenon.

Terrorism researchers like Tahir Abbas who has studied the relationship between Islamophobia (which has grown in response to jihadist attacks) and right-wing extremism have seen evidence that “groups radicalise each other and engage in configurations of reciprocal hate, demonisation, and violence”.

Online posts from far right actors after the recent attacks in France and Austria have spewed Islamophobic content and in turn online threats from Islamic extremists have threatened more attacks in response to insults against Islam.

In this heightened environment, when each group feels increasingly threatened by the other and believes that the other group is primed for action, the risk of violence increases.

The spate of jihadist attacks is concerning in and of itself, but more so because it feeds the anti-Muslim sentiment that fuels violent right-wing extremists and threatens social cohesion at a time of growing far-right sentiment.

Lydia Khalil is a research fellow at the Lowy Institute.



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Victoria records five new coronavirus cases and no deaths as East Preston Islamic College closes for cleaning


Victoria has recorded five new cases of coronavirus in the past 24 hours, and zero deaths, the state’s health department says.

The new cases take the rolling 14-day average for Melbourne to 6.1, down from 6.2 yesterday, with 10 “mystery” cases.

In regional Victoria, the 14-day average remains at 0.4.

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As many as 300 people are self-isolating in suburbs in Melbourne’s north as health authorities try to contain an outbreak of coronavirus linked to a school.

There are 17 active cases connected to the outbreak.

The East Preston Islamic College has been closed after a student tested positive for coronavirus.(ABC News: Billy Draper)

A student at the East Preston Islamic College tested positive for the virus, and the school has now been closed for the rest of the week.

Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has asked 70 families to self-isolate, and a testing blitz has begun in the suburbs of Roxburgh Park, Preston, Broadmeadows and Heidelberg West.

All  120 residents of a social housing block in Broadmeadows have been told to quarantine, and a mobile testing site has been set up at the block.

Jeroen Weimar, the DHHS’s commander of testing and community engagement, urged anyone in the area who is displaying symptoms to get tested.

“We’ve boosted all of our testing stations in the area and we’ve got additional pop-up testing locations particularly in Preston and Broadmeadows,” he said.

“We have so few cases now in Victoria that when we do see a positive case as we’ve seen in the past few weeks we’re going to bring all of our resources to bear on it and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure it doesn’t go any further.”

More to come.



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East Preston Islamic College closes after student tests positive to COVID-19


A school in Melbourne’s north will be closed for the rest of the week due to a year 5 student testing positive for COVID-19.

East Preston Islamic College’s principal, Ekrem Ozyurek, said the boy stayed home from school last week, because his siblings had tested positive for coronavirus in recent weeks.

The boy came back to school this week and attended on Monday and Tuesday, after his mother brought a letter from Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) dated October 17 clearing the other children of having coronavirus.

But on Tuesday DHHS called the school and said the boy was supposed to still be self-isolating as he waited for a day-11 test.

Mr Ozyurek closed the school as a precaution, and on Wednesday morning DHHS informed the school the boy had tested positive for COVID-19.

Mr Ozyurek said there seemed to have been some confusion because the boy’s parents said he had tested negative before this test.

“As school just got back we were thinking, ‘Yes, we’re back finally,’ then this happened,” he said.

“It happened to us today and it can happen to another person. It may not happen for two weeks and it could happen another week later — we don’t know.

“So my view is that we have to put everything aside and find out a way of working together.

“We aren’t blaming anybody.”

Mr Ozyurek said the school had provided DHHS with a list of the boy’s classmates and teachers for contact tracing.

The principal said the next step was waiting for DHHS’s recommendations on when it would be safe to reopen the school.

“If everything is OK we’ll be back to normal on Monday,” he said.

DHHS has been contacted for comment.

More to come.



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High Court upholds Islamic State member charge against Adelaide woman Zainab Abdirahman-Khalif


South Australian woman Zainab Abdirahman-Khalif, who was re-arrested today after the High Court reinstated her conviction for being a member of terrorist group Islamic State (IS), will make a bid to be released on parole.

An Adelaide jury had found her guilty of the charge, but she was freed on appeal.

She will now return to jail.

Her lawyer, James Caldicott, said she was devastated and disappointed by the outcome, and that she would be applying for release on parole.

“My client, who has been in the community with no issue, no impropriety for a period of over a year, had now been [taken] back into custody,” Mr Caldicott said.

“We will be, as urgently as we can, making an application for parole.”

Abdirahman-Khalif had been denied parole just before her Supreme Court acquittal last year, he said.

Decision makes association offences ‘harder to defend against’

Mr Caldicott said the High Court decision would have wide-ranging consequences for future court cases involving terrorist group membership and criminal association offences, which he argued made those charges more difficult to defend.

The Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions welcomed today’s ruling, saying it clarified the law by finding membership of a terrorist group does not require an exhaustive or rigid definition, but was instead a matter for a jury to decide.

Another 205 days in prison

Abdirahman-Khalif had denied being a member of the IS terrorist group after she was arrested trying to board a plane on a one-way ticket to Turkey, where she said she hoped to do aid work.

But during a hearing at Adelaide Magistrates Court this afternoon, Abdirahman-Khalif was told she would serve a further 205 days behind bars.

She appeared via video link from the city watch house, where Magistrate Brett Dixon informed her of the High Court decision.

Magistrate Dixon told her he would issue a warrant that authorises the AFP to take her to Adelaide Women’s Prison.

The AFP spokesperson said Abdirahman-Khalif was under a control order.

“A control order remains in place in relation to this individual, which was confirmed in the Federal Court in Adelaide on July 17, 2020,” the spokesperson said.

“The AFP, South Australia Police and partners use control orders — and other available legislative measures — to ensure the ongoing safety of the Australian community.”

From the first arrest to the upheld charges

Abdirahman-Khalif was detained at Adelaide Airport in July 2016 trying to board a plane to Turkey with hand luggage and $180. At the time, she was released without charge.

In May 2017, she was again arrested and charged by Australian Federal Police with knowingly being a member of a terrorist organisation.

In September 2018, following a three-week trial, Abdirahman-Khalif was found guilty of being a member of the Islamic State.

It took the jury of five women and seven men about three hours to reach an unanimous verdict.

The court heard 378 audio files associated with IS were found on her phone, along with 125 videos from an IS media organisation, 62 of which contained extremist material including vision of buildings being blown up, captives being executed and dead bodies on the ground.

Abdirahman-Khalif was also in communication with three young African women who carried out a bombing in Mombasa, Kenya, in September 2016, for which IS later claimed responsibility.

The court heard she had been repeating oaths and singing songs connected to Islamic State in her bedroom.

Zainab Abdirahman-Khalif leaves court in 2019 after being acquitted.(News Video)

However, late last year Abdirahman-Khalif was freed after an appeal found the prosecution had failed to present evidence of how a terrorist organisation admitted members.

One of the key issues then was whether the steps she took to go to Turkey were sufficient to link her to membership of IS.

Today, the High Court said evidence on Abdirahman-Khalif’s electronic devices showed she had taken intentional steps to become a member of the terror group.

“[This] included swearing allegiance to the Caliph, and answering the call to go to Sham to serve in support of the jihadis by attempting to fly to Turkey by one-way flight without informing her family and without the resources to return,” the High Court said in its judgment.

“It cannot reasonably be doubted that it was open to the jury to conclude that the respondent thereby intentionally took steps to become a member of Islamic State.”

The High Court also found that the law accommodated the unstructured nature of such groups.

Abdirahman-Khalif had served two-and-a-half years of the three-year sentence at the time she was released from prison.

In the meantime she has been living under a police control order, limiting her contacts and movements.



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High Court upholds Islamic State member charges against Adelaide woman Zainab Abdirahman-Khalif


South Australian woman Zainab Abdirahman-Khalif, convicted of joining Islamic State (IS), has been arrested in Adelaide after the High Court this morning upheld charges against her.

A spokesperson for the Australian Federal Police (AFP) confirmed Abdirahman-Khalif would serve the remainder of her jail term under the original decision of the South Australian Supreme Court.

During a hearing at Adelaide Magistrates Court this afternoon, Abdirahman-Khalif was told she would serve a further 205 days behind bars.

She appeared via video link from the city watch house, where Magistrate Brett Dixon informed her of the High Court decision.

Magistrate Dixon told her he would issue a warrant that authorises the AFP to take her to Adelaide Women’s Prison.

The AFP spokesperson said Abdirahman-Khalif is still under a control order.

“A control order remains in place in relation to this individual, which was confirmed in the Federal Court in Adelaide on July 17, 2020,” the spokesperson said.

“The AFP, South Australia Police and partners use control orders — and other available legislative measures — to ensure the ongoing safety of the Australian community.”

Abdirahman-Khalif denied being a member of the IS terrorist group after she was arrested trying to board a plane on a one-way ticket to Turkey, where she said she hoped to do aid work.

She was jailed after an Adelaide jury found her guilty, but was freed on appeal.

Today the High Court threw out the appeal, after a challenge by prosecutors.

From the first arrest to the upheld charges

Abdirahman-Khalif was detained at Adelaide Airport in July 2016 trying to board a plane to Turkey with hand luggage and $180. At the time, she was released without charge.

In May 2017, she was again arrested and charged by Australian Federal Police with knowingly being a member of a terrorist organisation.

In September 2018, following a three-week trial, Abdirahman-Khalif was found guilty of being a member of the Islamic State.

It took the jury of five women and seven men about three hours to reach an unanimous verdict.

The court heard 378 audio files associated with IS were found on her phone, along with 125 videos from an IS media organisation, 62 of which contained extremist material including vision of buildings being blown up, captives being executed and dead bodies on the ground.

Abdirahman-Khalif was also in communication with three young African women who carried out a bombing in Mombasa, Kenya, in September 2016, for which IS later claimed responsibility.

The court heard she had been repeating oaths and singing songs connected to Islamic State in her bedroom.

Zainab Abdirahman-Khalif leaves court in 2019 after being acquitted.(News Video)

However, late last year Abdirahman-Khalif was freed after an appeal found the prosecution had failed to present evidence of how a terrorist organisation admitted members.

One of the key issues then was whether the steps she took to go to Turkey were sufficient to link her to membership of IS.

Today, the High Court said evidence on Abdirahman-Khalif’s electronic devices showed she had taken intentional steps to become a member of the terror group.

“[This] included swearing allegiance to the Caliph, and answering the call to go to Sham to serve in support of the jihadis by attempting to fly to Turkey by one-way flight without informing her family and without the resources to return,” the High Court said in its judgment.

“It cannot reasonably be doubted that it was open to the jury to conclude that the respondent thereby intentionally took steps to become a member of Islamic State.”

The High Court also found that the law accommodated the unstructured nature of such groups.

Abdirahman-Khalif had served two-and-a-half years of the three-year sentence at the time she was released from prison.

In the meantime she has been living under a police control order, limiting her contacts and movements.



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Right-wing extremists using Islamic State tactics to recruit, ASIO warns, amid spike in surveillance


Australia’s domestic spy agency has revealed a dramatic rise in the number of violent right-wing extremists under surveillance, while warning some groups are now employing Islamic State-style radicalisation tactics.

The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) has told Parliament’s Joint Intelligence and Security Committee that far-right movements are also taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to bolster recruitment.

ASIO deputy director-general Heather Cook said up to 40 per cent of the agency’s counterterrorism efforts are now focussed on thwarting violent plots by right-wing groups or individuals.

“Extreme right-wing violent extremism occupies approximately between 30 and 40 per cent of ASIO’s current case load in our counterterrorism work — and that is an increase from approximately 10 and 15 per cent prior to 2016,” she said.

Ms Cook has also revealed that ASIO is concerned that right-wing extremists are now using the same strategies as Islamic extremists to bolster their ranks.

“I think not dissimilar to the way ISIL [Islamic State] used its propaganda and its ability to manipulate social media to recruit the young and the vulnerable — I think we are seeing a similar phenomenon being used by some in that extreme right-wing milieu to good effect,” she said.

ASIO deputy director-general Heather Cook (right) says the number of cases has increased in recent years.(ABC News: Adam Kennedy)

The threat posed by radical right-wing extremists came to public prominence following last year’s deadly Christchurch mosque shootings, and in February, ASIO warned that neo-Nazis were emerging as one of Australia’s most challenging security threats.

Under questioning from Labor MP Anthony Byrne, Ms Cook also warned that COVID-19 was leading to an increase in radicalisation.

“There’s always a combination of factors which contribute to an attraction to a particular type of ideology at a particular point in time,” she said.

“Some of the circumstances of COVID have contributed to an increase in radicalisation, in particular, because of the amount of time that individuals are spending in isolation or working from home or not in school.

“It makes it much easier to be finding like-minded individuals, there is a much wider variety of what I would call chat groups or areas where individuals with these views can coalesce and discuss and I guess promote those views more widely.”

Mr Byrne, the deputy chair of the intelligence committee, described the revelations of a rapid increase in violent right-wing extremists as “astonishing”.

Responding to ASIO’s evidence, Shadow Home Affairs Minister Kristina Keneally tweeted that Australia was still the only country inside the “Five-Eyes” intelligence network — which includes the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand — which had not officially proscribed any right-wing extremist group as a terrorist organisation.



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