Abu Sayyaf Group, al-Qa’ida, al-Qa’ida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham and Jemaah Islamiyah
This chapter examines the merits of re-listing Abu Sayyaf Group, al-Qa’ida, al-Qa’ida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham and Jemaah Islamiyah as terrorist organisations under the Criminal Code.
Abu Sayyaf Group
According to the Statement of Reasons, Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) was founded in 1991 as a separatist militant Islamist movement and primarily operates on the islands of Jolo and Basilan in the Sulu archipelago of the southern Philippines.
ASG was first listed as a terrorist organisation under the Criminal Code in 2002 and was subsequently re-listed in 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2013 and in 2016.
According to ASG propaganda the group’s objective is ‘to create an independent Islamic State in Mindanao including the Sulu archipelago’. Elements of ASG have pledged allegiance to Islamic State and the group has associated with other terrorist organisations, such as al-Qa’ida and Jemaah Islamiyah since it was founded.
ASG has approximately 300 members, but is able to draw upon on a much larger base of individuals in the Sulu archipelago ‘motivated by the prospect of financial dividends stemming from kidnapping operations’. While most of the group’s members are locals, it has periodically welcomed foreign jihadists, including anti-Western jihadists who were involved in the 2002 Bali bombings.
The Statement of Reasons notes that ASG raises funds through ‘kidnap-for-ransom and extortion ventures’ and receives support from the local population. In the past, ASG has also received funds from groups including al-Qa’ida and Jemaah Islamiyah and other foreign benefactors.
The Statement of Reasons asserts that ASG has ‘extensive operational reach and it plans and conducts terrorist attacks and kidnappings against a wide range of targets, including Philippine security forces and foreign interests in areas including Mindanao, Basilan, Tawi Tawi, Jolo, Palawan, Davao and Malaysia’s Sabah State’.
The Statement of Reasons reports that ASG has ‘been linked to numerous large-scale attacks over the past decade, including the 27 February 2004 bombing of the Superferry 14 in Manila harbour, killing 114 people, and the 14 February 2005 coordinated bombings in the cities of Makati, Davao, and General Santos, killing 11 people’.
Since ASG was last re-listed as a terrorist organisation, the group has engaged in numerous attacks involving firearms and explosives which injured and killed government officials, soldiers and citizens; and destroyed houses and a health centre.
ASG has also undertaken kidnappings, largely motivated by financial gain, targeting Westerners, wealthy foreign nationals, local politicians, business people and civilians. The Statement of Reasons asserts that the funds obtained through kidnapping ransoms assist ASG to resist counter-insurgency operations conducted by the Philippines Armed Forces and to pursue their ideology objectives. Moreover, in 2016, ASG beheaded two Canadian hostages when their ransom was not paid.
ASG advocates for and encourages others to undertake the doing of terrorist acts by publicising its own activities. It has released videos featuring ISIL flags and propaganda, and multiple videos depicting beheadings. Elements of ASG have also been known to use the ISIL’s media entity, Amaq to promote the groups ideology.
The Statement of Reasons notes that ASG targets Westerners, including Australians, for kidnapping, primarily because of their ransom potential. For example, security forces prevented the kidnapping of an Australian family in north-eastern Mindanao in early November 2015.
ASG has been listed as a proscribed terrorist organisation by the governments of New Zealand, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. It has also been designated subject to financial sanctions and an arms embargo by the United Nations Security Council ISIL (Da’esh) and al-Qaida Sanctions Committee since 2001.
ASG is not involved in any peace or mediation process.
The Statement of Reason’s describes al-Qa’ida as ‘a Sunni Islamist extremist organisation which seeks to establish a trans-national Islamic Caliphate by removing, through violent means if necessary, governments in Muslim countries that it deems are “un-Islamic”’. Al-Qa’ida believes the United States and its allies (including Australia) are the ‘greatest obstacle to this objective, given their perceived support for these governments’ and advocates for ‘strikes’ against them.
Al-Qa’ida was first listed as a terrorist organisation under the Criminal Code in 2002 and was subsequently re-listed in 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2013 and 2016.
Al-Qa’ida operates through a decentralised model, its leadership is dispersed across countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Iran, Libya and Yemen and it has been almost a decade since it carried out a terrorist act directly. Rather, al-Qa’ida‘s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and his core leadership group influences the activities of official and unofficial affiliate groups around the world by outlining goals, objectives, strategy for global jihad.
A number of al-Qa’ida’s affiliate groups are also listed as terrorist organisations under the Criminal Code, including:
al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb;
al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula; and
al-Qa’ida in the Indian Subcontinent.
Al-Qa’ida secures funding by exploiting charities, and through its long terms supporters, donors and fundraisers in the Gulf.
Whilst al-Qa’ida does not carry out terrorist attacks directly, its leadership continues to assist or foster acts of terrorism. Core leadership figures outline strategic priorities and guidelines and the leaders of official and unofficial groups adapt these priorities to local conditions, including the directive to undertake attacks against Western interests. For example, in April 2017, the Iman Shamil Battalion group bombed the St Petersburg metro station in Russia, killing sixteen people. The group stated that they carried out the attack under the direct order of al-Qa’ida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Moreover, al-Qa’ida leaders continue to make public statements promoting the groups ideology, praising acts of terrorism undertaken by other groups and encouraging ‘violent jihad against the West’.
Ms Heather Cook, Deputy Director-General, Operations and Assessment Group, ASIO said al-Qa’ida is focussed on the end of Western influence in the Muslim world:
…as part of this strategy, [al-Qa’ida] actively advocates for strikes against the United States and its allies, such as Australia, and Western interests. Australia has certainly been specifically referenced or alluded to in official al-Qa’ida statements, most recently in 2016, I believe; al-Qa’ida has not lost traction. Since 11 September 2001 it has changed tack in some ways, but its ability to continue to build on its hub and spokes of affiliates or franchises has been highly effective and continues to attract membership to its groups. Because of its core intent to build a caliphate across the Middle East, it certainly sees the West as the primary impediment to that; therefore, the West will remain a very active target of its hostilities. We already know the degree to which it accepts violence and terrorism as a legitimate arm of how it operates to achieve that.
According to the Statement of Reasons, in December 2018, Ayam al-Zawahiri released a video statement directing the mujahideen (those engaged in Jihad) to concentrate on using weapons and martyrdom American and Israeli targets. Al- Shabaab subsequently released a statement claiming that their attack against the DusitD2 hotel in Nairobi on 15 January 2019 was made in response to Ayman al-Zawahiri’s statement.
Further video statements were made by Ayman al-Zawahiri in September 2018 reinforcing al-Qa’ida’s anti-American stance. Hamza bin Laden (the oldest surviving son of Usama bin Laden) made earlier statements in May 2017. The videos featured the leaders advocating for attacks against the West, the US and its allies, and Russia. Hamza bin Laden also encouraged the use of knives, vehicles and trucks instead of guns and bombs. Media outlets in the United States have reported statements from unnamed US officials that Hamza Bin Laden may have been killed in a military operation during the last two years.
The Statement of Reasons notes that there have been past instances of Australians being affiliated with al-Qa’ida, although there are no confirmed Australians linked to the group currently.
Similarly, al-Qa’ida statements advocating for strikes against the United States and its allies have specifically referenced or alluded to Australia in the past. For example, in 2016, several video and audio statements were released encouraging South East Asian extremists to attack Western interests in the region. The statements featured previous statements from the Bali bombers in which they threaten to attack Australians should they visit Bali or other tourist destinations in Indonesia.
Al-Qa’ida is proscribed as a terrorist organisation by New Zealand, Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States and is listed by the European Union for the purpose of its antiterrorism measures. The group has also been designated subject to financial sanctions and an arms embargo by the United Nations Security Council ISIL (Da’esh) and al-Qaida Sanctions Committee since 2001.
Al-Qa’ida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb
As previously noted, al-Qa’ida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is an affiliate of al-Qa’ida which shares its anti-Western ideology and aims to remove ‘un-Islamic’ governments in Muslim countries in order to establish an Islamic Caliphate.
AQIM was first listed as a terrorist organisation under the Criminal Code in 2002, under the group’s former name the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (Le Groupe Salafiste Pour La Predication et Le Combat). At that time the group’s main objective was to replace the Algerian Government with an Islamic Government to rule Algeria under Islamic law. It was re-listed under that name in 2004 and 2006.
According to the Statement of Reasons, in 2006 the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat formed an alliance with al-Qa’ida and adopted the name AQIM. Replacing the Algerian Government remained a key objective after the name change. However, the group also ‘declared war’ on foreigners and their interests in North Africa and Europe, and expanded its ambition from establishing Islamic State in Algeria to establishing it in the wider north and west Africa region. AQIM was subsequently re-listed as a terrorist organisation under its new name in 2008, 2010, 2013 and 2016. AQIM has also called for Maghreb countries of North Africa to be freed from Spanish and French influences and for ‘the restoration of the lost Islamic regions of southern Spain, referred to as al-Andalus’.
The Statement of Reasons reports that AQIM has committed terrorist acts and kidnappings against a broad range of north and west Africa targets since it was last listed as a terrorist organisation.
On 9 July 2018, AQIM militants from the Uqba bin Nafi Battalion ambushed Tunisian police officers near Ghardimau in northwestern Tunisia, killing six people.
On 3 March 2018, AQIM attacked the French embassy and an army headquarters in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, killing 16 people.
On 18 January 2018, AQIM claimed an attack where a suicide-bomber from AQIM-linked group al-Murabitun attacked a camp housing Malian soldiers in the city of Gao, Mali, killing at least 50.
On 13 March 2016, AQIM conducted a joint armed attack with al-Murabitun at tourist hotels in Grand Bassam, Cote, d’Ivoire killing 19 people and wounding 33.
AQIM has also publically advocated for the doing of terrorist acts. In 2018, AQIM released speeches calling for its fighters to target western companies in Africa and attempting to rally Muslims in Maghreb to fight against their respective governments.
While AQIM has not directly issued statements directly threatening Australian or Australian interests, it has issued statements threatening westerners and their interests more generally. In the past AQIM has also claimed responsibility for attacks against French and United States forces.
AQIM has been listed as a terrorist organisation by New Zealand, Canada, and the United States. The United Nations Security Council ISIL (Da’esha) and al-Qa’ida Sanctions Committee has also designated AQIM for financial sanctions and an arms embargo since 2001.
To date, AQIM has not participated in peace talks with the Algerian Government and it was not party to negotiations with the Malian Government over the Islamist occupation of northern Mali in 2012.
Jabhat Fatah al-Sham
Jabhat Fatah al-Sham is a Sunni Islamist extremist group based in Syria with links to al-Qa’ida, formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra. Jabhat al-Nusra was originally established in 2011 to oppose the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad. However, in 2016, the group adopted its current name in an effort to deflect international attention.
In 2017, the renamed Jabhat al-Sham merged with a number of Syrian opposition groups to form Hay’ at Tahrir al-Sham in an attempt to unify opposition against the Syrian Government regime. According to the Statement of Reasons, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham is the ‘largest and most dominant component’ of this alliance and attracts smaller groups by offering weapons, battlefield expertise, training and support. Jabhat Fatah al-Sham ‘reportedly’ has a fighting force between 7,000 and 12,000 strong with additional membership in supporting roles.
Jabhat Fatah al-Sham provides social services and food to Syrians aiding it to recruit them to its cause. In the past is has also actively recruited child soldiers and accepted foreign fighters who pledge allegiance to their cause.
Jabhat Fatah al-Sham is funded through international donors, kidnap for ransom activities, as well as local sources such as the collection of taxes, tariffs and fines.
Since it was last listed as a terrorist organisation Jabhat Fatah al-Sham has continued to target the Syrian regime. It has attacked individuals and groups it perceives to be supporting the regime using improvised explosive devices, suicide attacks, snipers, small arms attacks, kidnapping and executions. For example, in January 2017, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in a heavily policed area of Damascus where the Syrian regime’s main security installations are located. The attack killed seven people.
Jabhat Fatah al-Sham has also attacked other groups opposing the Syrian regime, such as Islamic State, if they felt that these groups also opposed Jabhat Fatah al-Sham. The Statement fo Reasons reports that attacks conducted in urban areas have resulted in ‘indiscriminate civilian deaths’. In March 2018, Hay’ at Tahrir al-Sham announced it had taken control of several towns in Idlib and Aleppo and killed fighters from Jabhat Tahrir Suriya (a coalition of armed Syrian opposition groups). Hay’ at Tahrir al-Sham shelled at least one town with mortars causing civilian casualties and executed five captured Jabhat Tahrir Suriya fighters in the town square. It is also accused of releasing 150 Islamic State fighters it had captured two weeks previously and providing them with weapons to fight against Jabhat Tahrir Suriya.
Jabhat Fatah al-Sham publicised its activities and distributed propaganda under its previous name. However, since re-branding it has – through Hay’ at Tahrir al-Sham – reduced its anti-western rhetoric and used social media platforms to promote its support for the Syrian people and the Syrian armed opposition’s battle against the Syrian regime.
The Statement of Reasons notes that while Jabhat Fatah al-Sham no longer publically calls for anti-western attacks, the group continues to encourage other groups to attack western interests and circulates news aimed at fuelling anti-western sentiment amongst its supporters. In 2018 it released statements describing an attack by the Taliban on an American aircraft and Australia’s purported consideration of recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The Statement of Reasons also notes that over 100 Australians have travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight for extremist groups, with some joining Jabhat Fatah al-Sham when it operated under its previous name.
Jabhat Fatah al-Sham has also been listed as a terrorist organisation (under a number of its aliases) by the United States, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Jabhart Fatah al-Sham is not engaged in any peace or mediation process.
Jemaah Islamiyah is a jihadist group, inspired by the same ideology as al-Qa’ida, which regards the Indonesian Government and other governments in the region to be illegitimate.
Jemaah Islamiyah aims to revive a pure form of Islam governed by the tenets of Sharia law. The groups ‘charter’, General Guide for the Struggle of Al-Jama’ah Al-Islamiyah outlines ‘religious principles’ informing the group’s objectives, which include establishing a ‘solid base of followers’ and then, through armed struggle, forming an Islamic state in Indonesia followed by a pan-Islamic Caliphate incorporating Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and the Southern Philippines.
Jemaah Islamiyah seeks to expand its group of followers by publishing propaganda promoting an extreme interpretation of Islam and by continuing its affiliation to a network of religious schools where an extreme interpretation of Islam is promoted. According to the Statement of Reasons, Jemaah Islamiyah revived its military wing in 2010 and its network of religious schools also act as ‘incubators for militant recruits’.
Jemaah Islamiyah has not committed terrorist attacks in recent years. However, the Statement of Reasons asserts that it continues to, ‘prepare, plan, foster and advocate the doing of terrorist acts and retains the intent and willingness to use violence in support of its long term political and ideological objectives’. In recent years Jemaah Islamiyah has focussed on ‘dawah’ (Islamic outreach), fundraising and recruiting new members through personal contacts, religious study groups, activity on university campuses, prisons and from its network of religious schools. Jemaah Islamiyah has secured funding from financiers in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, through robberies, member contributions, Islamic publishing as well as charity and legitimate business interests.
In 2016 it was confirmed that Jemaah Islamiyah was raising funds and sending members to train in Syria to prepare for the future – a likely reference to politically motivated violence.
Jemaah Islamiyah has links to a number of other Indonesian and South East Asian extremist groups. Australians are not currently involved in its activities. However, Jemaah Islamiyah did previous have a presence in Australia which was considering attacks against Jewish interests, known as Mantiqi IV.
The United Nations Security Council ISIL and al-Qa’ida Sanctions Committee has designated Jemaah Islamiyah for financial sanctions and an arms embargo since 2002. It has also been listed as a terrorist organisation by Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Aside from advising the Committee of the listing and re-listing of the above organisations as terrorist organisations, the Minister for Home Affairs also informed the Committee that there is ‘currently insufficient contemporaneous information from classified and open sources to demonstrate that Jamiat ul-Ansar satisfies the legislative criteria’ for re-listing the organisation as a terrorist organisation under the Criminal Code.
Jamiat ul-Ansar is a Pakistani extremist organisation which aims to establish a Caliphate based on Islamic law across a united Kashmir and Pakistan. It was listed as a terrorist organisation under the Criminal Code in 2002 and re-listed in 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2013.
The Minister noted that Jamiat ul-Ansar remains in the Consolidated List of entities designated under the United Nations Security Council Resolution and is subject to targeted financial sanctions, transit bans and an arms embargo.
Ms Cook noted that de-listing Jamiat ul-Ansar does not prevent ASIO from actively monitoring the group:
Whether or not a group is proscribed does not dictate where we can apply ourselves. The nature of many of these groups is fluid, as we know, as they coalesce or disaggregate or reconnect with other groups. It’s something that ASIO keeps a very close watching brief on. Should [Jamiat ul-Ansar] re-establish or develop more structure or intent, it would certainly be something that we would be revisiting. But since it was last proscribed we have not been able to identify the information to be able to support a case about whether or not it still exists or whether or not it still has the same intent.
The Committee has carefully considered the evidence provided in relation to Abu Sayyaf Group, al-Qa’ida, al-Qa’ida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham and Jemaah Islamiyah and is convinced that these groups continue to engage in and/or advocate terrorist acts and therefore satisfy the definitions of terrorist organisations set out in section 102.1 of the Criminal Code.
The Committee consequently supports the regulations re-listing the organisations as terrorist organisations under the Criminal Code and finds no reason to disallow the legislative instruments.
The Committee notes the Minister for Home Affairs’ assertion that there is insufficient evidence that Jamiat ul-Ansar satisfies the legislative criteria to be re-listed as a terrorist organisation at this time.
The Committee urges the Minister and intelligence agencies to continue to monitor the activities of Jamiat ul-Ansar and seek a re-listing at a later time if warranted.