Discussion paper

Australian foreign fighters: risks and responses

16 Apr 2015

In this analysis, Andrew Zammit argues that Australians fighting in Iraq and Syria pose a threat to Australia’s security and examines the options for responding to that threat, including through non-coercive means.

Key Findings

Australian foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose a serious national security threat to Australia.

The threat requires a wide-ranging counter-terrorist response that includes non-coercive measures (known as Countering Violent Extremism or CVE).

Australia can learn valuable lessons from European countries, which are already using CVE measures to address foreign fighters, but any Australian approach must be carefully calibrated for the local context.

Executive Summary

Conflicts in Syria and Iraq have attracted aspiring jihadists from across the world. Australians have joined the flow of foreign fighters to the region, raising concerns that some will carry out terrorist attacks in Australia should they return home. The record of past jihadist foreign fighter mobilisations, including Australia's own history in this regard, demonstrates that there is a potential threat to Australia’s security. However, a range of factors will shape that threat, including how Australia responds to returning foreign fighters.

The Government's response has mainly focused on increased resources and powers for police and intelligence agencies, but also includes an important non-coercive element termed Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) that has received less attention. CVE has been a core element of the global response to foreign fighters, and has played a role in Australia’s counter-terrorism approach for several years. However, many past CVE measures are not directly suitable for the current situation. Australia can learn valuable lessons from European countries, which have more experience in CVE and are already using such measures to address the current foreign fighter threat.


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