On Monday night, Somalian Australian Yacqub Khayre murdered two people during a hostage operation in an apartment building in the Melbourne suburb of Brighton. On Tuesday morning, ISIS called him a "soldier of the Islamic State". Endorsing a tragic but nonetheless poorly thought out incident in a relatively unknown Australian suburb, it has to be said, is a bit of a desperate move. There's very little likelihood that ISIS helped orchestrate the event in any way, although claiming responsibility for it so quickly proves they've got access to some great media monitoring software.
For ANU counter terrorism and Islamic radicalisation expert Dr Clarke Jones, this is the real issue at hand. "I'm always concerned that every time there's an act of extremism or terrorism or violence played out, you are getting this automatic response from the Islamic State. They appear to be trawling for these sorts of incidents so that they can link to themselves to them in order to justify that the Islamic State is a large monolithic group... a huge terror organisation with links into every country," he tells VICE.
"The Islamic State are a real concern. Returning foreign fighters coming in, that's a real concern. But they're creating this image that they're much larger than they actually are. And we play into that."
ISIS claiming responsibility for the Melbourne siege follows a trend. It's unknown whether it played a direct role in the recent Manchester suicide bombing, or the stabbings in London. But the organisation was quick to claim that it did, and politicians and media outlets were similarly quick to react with horror. Malcolm Turnbull referred to Khayre's actions as a "terrorist attack" almost immediately.
Dr Jones explains that claiming unrelated attacks makes ISIS both more and less dangerous at the same time. More dangerous because image is everything for a tiny terror organisation with a big reputation—being able to claim responsibility for the actions of every lunatic extremist, even in far-off Australia, is good PR. These unaffiliated attacks are also insidious because they're less easy to detect and therefore prevent. They're not organised from some far-off desert cave; they're popping up anywhere, from Manchester to Melbourne, and there's no trail to follow.
But on the other hand, the fact that ISIS isn't orchestrating these attacks, but rather has a habit of simply latching onto them after they happen, proves such events are not part of some vast global Islamic conspiracy to take down Western democracy—regardless of what Donald Trump or Pauline Hanson would have you believe.
"If you look at the ideology that Islamic State plays to, it's about creating a divide...and everything we're doing [in reaction to this] is creating that divide. The rise of the conservative right creates hype, while at the end of the day in most of these events there is no solid connection at all to Islamic State. ASIO and the intelligence agents will find no solid link. It's not a large organisation at all, it's extremely weak," says Jones.
What really interests Jones is the psychology behind these copycat ISIS-inspired attacks. "Attacks or acts of violence have always created copycats, it doesn't have to be this kind of extremism. But with terrorism because there's so much media around it, it can give justification for others to carry out acts of violence. So you can understand that there are copycats as a result of this sort of stuff," he says.
And if we're going to address and help minimise radicalisation—and Jones doesn't deny that we can expect more of these ISIS-endorsed incidents on Australian soil in the foreseeable future—understanding that "susceptibility" is key.
"A young person can act out an act of violence in the name of religion but that doesn't mean the religion is driving them to do it. What we've found is that a lot of underlying social issues are driving it. There could be parental issues, domestic violence, a feeling of not belonging, lack of identity, lack of meaning or purpose in life, the list goes on," he says.
When sentencing him in 2012 for an ice-fueled home invasion, Justice George Hampel characterised Yacqub Khayre as someone "isolated" from his family and community, commenting there were no family members in court to support him. His rehabilitation prospects, the Justice noted, were "gloomy."
If we're going to prevent people like Khayre from acting violently, Jones says, we have to understand that these are issues are experienced by young and alienated people growing up right here in Australia.
"There's no planning or development by Islamic State or anyone in Syria or Iraq or any other country."
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