Sydney terrorism raids — Surry Hills!

Right where I lived 1992-2010. From 2008:

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And here is the area:

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See Sydney terror raids ‘disrupted’ plot to bring down plane, Malcolm Turnbull says and Sydney terrorism raids believed to relate to ‘bomb plot involving aircraft’.

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Update

See Sydney terror raids: Bomb plotters may have already tried to smuggle device onto international flight.

Update 4 August

See Two men to appear in court over alleged jet plot.

The only place I have seen the following story on the arrested man who was eventually released is Sydney’s Daily Telegraph two days ago. The detail, based on my experience of 18 years living in “Little Lebanon,” rings true to me.

Khaled Merhi’s father, Omar Merhi, broke his ­silence yesterday to deny his son is a terrorist.

Khaled Merhi’s behaviour was said by friends to have been erratic in the days leading up to his arrest.

They said he lost his job as a van driver last week having racked up thousands of dollars in debt gambling on ­horses and failed to turn up to Botany Powder Coaters on Friday…

The Merhi family, originally from Beirut, bought their terraced Surry Hills home in 1974 and brought up their 14 children there.

Khaled was the only one who never married but he has a seven-year-old daughter after a volatile long-term relationship with a Lebanese-born woman from Canberra.

His father Omar, 76, said Khaled was christened at the Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral of St George in Redfern.

“He has never been to a mosque in his life,” Omar said yesterday.

“It’s bulls … that he wanted to blow up a plane, he works hard for his child and his girlfriend, who was always asking him for money, $150 here and there for jewellery and clothes, it was never enough, it felt like he was working to buy everything for her.

“In my 47 years in Australia, I’ve never had a problem with police and nor has any of my children.”

Hey, hang on! It appears the one who was released is Abdul Merhi, not Khaled. Latest:

Timeline of the alleged plot

April – Some of the men allegedly involved in the plot start communicating with a senior Islamic State figure in Syria who instructs them on how to make a bomb. The group allegedly order military-grade explosive components in the post from Turkey.

July 15 – Khaled Khayat, 49, allegedly escorts his unwitting brother to Sydney Airport to board an Etihad flight to Abu Dhabi with luggage containing a bomb. The bag is not checked in, possibly because it is too heavy, so Mr Khayat takes it home with him while his brother, who was unaware of the bomb, boards his flight as planned.

July 17 – Mr Khayat’s brother-in-law, Khaled Merhi, who remains in custody, sets up a business Khaleds Powder Coating Services. The men allegedly start working on a gas dispersion device.

July 26 – US and British agencies pass on intelligence picked up from Syria about the plot. Australian police start investigating immediately and put the men under surveillance.

July 27 – Security measures at Sydney Airport are enhanced on the advice of ASIO.

July 27-31 – Police create a mock IED like the one created on July 15 and test whether it would get through airport security. It doesn’t.

July 29 – Four men are arrested in five raids across Sydney.

July 30 – airport security is enhanced at all major Australian airports.

August 1 – Khaled Merhi’s brother Abdul Merhi released without charge.

August 3 – Charges laid against Khaled Khayat and Khaled Merhi

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Testing for English competence?

On Facebook yesterday I posted with reference to Could you pass the proposed English test for Australian citizenship? The author of that, Misty Adoniou, is Associate Professor in Language, Literacy and TESL, University of Canberra. I was from 1990-2010 for much of the time a teacher of ESOL or ESL in a private language college, at a state high school, at an Anglican school, and as a private tutor, so I have had a professional interest. My post:

This is outrageous! If this had been the case twenty years ago my friend M, a very successful citizen indeed, would have failed, as would more successful citizens than you could poke a stick at, including quite a few Anglos born here! IELTS Band 6? A stupid suggestion — and as a retired ESL/ESOL I know that test well. “Aspiring Australian citizens will need to score a Band 6 on the general stream of the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) test, the same score as those seeking entry to Australia’s top university” This requirement MUST NOT pass. Stupid Dutton!

I am marginally less excited this morning, but not much…

The Australian government has been proposing among other things a strengthening of the English Language requirements for those aspiring to be Australian citizens. (That link to a PDF currently works, but typically as with any government discussion paper could disappear at any time.)

English language is essential for economic participation and social cohesion,
and there are certain standards that must be met, especially for those
who are seeking to become a permanent resident or Australian citizen.

There is strong public support to ensure aspiring citizens are fully able
to participate in Australian life, by speaking English, our national language.
Aspiring citizens are currently required to possess a level of ‘basic’ English
to meet the requirements for citizenship. This is tested when an applicant
sits the Australian citizenship test.

Aspiring citizens will be required to undertake separate upfront English
language testing with an accredited provider and achieve a minimum
level of ‘competent’.

People currently exempt from sitting the Australian citizenship test, for example
applicants over 60 years of age, or under 16 years of age at the time they
applied for citizenship or those with an enduring or permanent mental
or physical incapacity, will be exempt from English language testing.

The test most people will confront is the internationally respected  IELTS test.  I have worked with this test in the past. This SBS page summarises well:

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton also outlined in a press release that the English test that applicants will be required to pass involve will involve elements of reading, writing, listening and speaking. This is thought that it will therefore make it equivalent to IELTS level 6.

What does “competent” mean here?

Let’s see how the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is scored as a comparative benchmark to define a “competent” English level.

IELTS measures the language proficiency of people who want to study or work where English is used as a language of communication. The test assesses areas including listening, reading, writing and speaking – in less than three hours.

According to the IELTS official site, there are two types of IELTS tests: Academic and General Training.

The General Training type, which focuses on basic survival skills in broad social and workplace contexts, is normally considered easier than the Academic type, and is already a requirement for migration to Australia.

It is therefore more likely to assume that Government’s citizenship test will look at the standard of the General type….

Currently, for international students in Australia hoping to study full-time in a recognised education institution, they need need an overall IELTS score of 5.5 for Academic type.

However, most universities set their English proficiency requirement at an overall score of 6.5. For University of Sydney, many faculties and courses actually require an overall band score of 7.0 or better with a minimum score of 6.0 in each of the components.

It is therefore quite hopeful to assume that the new English requirement shall not be a significant obstacle for those young people who successfully manage to accomplish a degree, migrate and live in Australia before applying for citizenship.

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Labor is exaggerating when they say the test is “university level”, but I still feel the proposal, even if it refers to Band 6 on the General IELTS in listening, reading, writing and speaking, is setting the bar unreasonably high. As Misty Adoniou says:

I prepared students for the IELTS test when I lived and taught in Greece. They needed a score of 6 to get into Foundation courses in British universities. It wasn’t an easy test and sometimes it took them more than one try to succeed.

My students were middle class, living comfortably at home with mum and dad. They had been to school all their lives and were highly competent readers and writers in their mother tongue of Greek.

They had been learning English at school since Grade 4, and doing private English tuition after school for even longer. Essentially they had been preparing for their IELTS test for at least 8 years.

They were not 40-year-old women whose lives as refugees has meant they have never been to school, and cannot read and write in their mother tongue.

Neither were they adjusting to a new culture, trying to find affordable accommodation and a job while simultaneously dealing with post-traumatic stress and the challenge of settling their teenage children into a brand new world.

I strongly suspect that if I were to spring a battery of IELTS tests on the usual clientele at City Diggers in Wollongong a rather alarming number — all of them citizens and many born here, including “Anglos” — would fail to make Band 6 in one or more of the skill areas. Of course they are all nonetheless competent as citizens.

A curious justification for tightening English is some apparent connection to resisting terrorism:

Recent terrorist attacks around the world have justifiably caused concern
in the Australian community. The Government responds to these threats
by continuing to invest in counter-terrorism, strong borders and strong
national security. This helps to ensure that Australia remains an open,
inclusive, free and safe society.

In the face of these threats, there is no better time to reaffirm our
steadfast commitment to democracy, opportunity and our shared values.

The English Test is after all part of that package, and on those grounds alone I feel Labor has been justified in sending it back to the drawing board.

As far as I know I have not met any terrorists, but I have been up close and personal with a well-known member of  Hizb ut-Tahrir, as I recount here and here.

This goes back to 2005 and a particularly interesting if controversial event. On the day I was not there, as I had to attend a meeting of ESL teachers at Erskineville – or was it Arncliffe, one of the last such meetings for me as I retired the following year. But I did know all the participants at The Mine end, and I posted on it at the time and the following year. See Salt Mine and Islamic Students; 7.30 Report: The Mine and the Islamists; The Mine and the Islamists: cause for concern?. On Floating Life Apr 06 ~ Nov 07 there is also a major entry from April 2006.

What I found yesterday was a video on YouTube of the complete 2005 Seminar [still there at 9 Oct 2014] referred to in those entries. The controversy centred on the guest speakers, Sheik Khalid Yassin and Hizb ut-Tahrir’s Wassim Doureihi. These people would fall in one of Michael Burleigh’s inner circles (see previous entry) but not necessarily, of course, into the innermost circle. While I had concerns about the Mine students involved, I very much doubt they would have even considered the innermost circle – quite the opposite in fact. (I also refer to these students in my Cronulla 2005 posts.)

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Stills from the video.

Mine students often show initiative, of course, and these particular students were very bright indeed and participated in all aspects of school life to the full. An earlier generation some ten years before promised they would have Barry Crocker and Kamahl at their farewell assembly. We thought they were joking, but on the day, there they were! The Tamils were especially happy. So were the office ladies.

What I can say is that Wassim and company would have had no trouble passing IELTS at a very high level, so what is Mr Dutton actually doing?

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You know who…

Related: it is worth taking the challenge of this article from 2015. And also along the lines we are freaking out rather more than we should, read Londoner Stephen Liddell from 10 June 2017: Talk of Terrorism is all hype. He posts this, figures relating presumably to the UK:

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Do check my other posts tagged “terror”.

Do read Waleed Aly on terrorism today

Hard to fault what he says: Saying ‘enough is enough’ is to misunderstand terrorism completely.

What exactly is our end point here – our non-negotiable point of no return? Because there will always be a case to make. Take Iran: an awesomely brutal security state that has shown no compunction in imprisoning and torturing dissenters, and which defines its security threats extremely broadly. However tough we might want to be on terrorism, we will surely never match that. And yet Iran has just now witnessed a major IS terrorist attack of its own, despite being an overwhelmingly Shiite nation scarcely known for housing masses of IS supporters. The truth is that while hard police power is undoubtedly important, the track record of governments trying to eliminate terrorism predominantly by force isn’t an encouraging one.

That’s because at terrorism’s heart is the narrative that sustains it. That narrative is itself a complex of things: social circumstances, an array of grievances and crucially, an ideology that makes these things coherent and directs that anger towards an enemy. Islamism is currently potent because it does this so efficiently. You can’t imprison that potency out of existence. You can only try to make it ring less true, so fewer and fewer people are attracted to it. And given one of Islamism’s most common conspiratorial motifs is that Western societies are out to destroy Islam and will never accept Muslims, the road to internment seems a fraught one to walk. We’re fortunate for now such ideas are marginal in our politics. But we’re heading that way unless we can at some point look at our instinctive, visceral responses and say enough is enough.

A Muslim man named Sadiq Patel comforts a Jewish woman named Renee Rachel Black next to floral tributes in Albert Square in Manchester

A Muslim man named Sadiq Patel comforts a Jewish woman named Renee Rachel Black next to floral tributes in Albert Square in Manchester, Britain May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Darren Staples

On terror — just for the record

A couple of days ago I posted on Facebook: So many really stupid things are being said now in the wake of the dreadful events in London, not least tweeted by Donald Trump, the unwise leader of the USA. When will we ever learn?

What follows is a few items for consideration. But first a couple of points of my own. It is clear that the hideous ideology ISIS embodies is Islamic, as Graeme Wood most convincingly demonstrates. See  his What ISIS Really Wants. However, that does not mean at all that Islam IS Isis. See for confirmation stories like London attack: Muslims raise more then £17,000 in 24 hours for victims of Westminster terror and families. Unfortunately reactions such as Pauline Hanson’s don’t seem to  comprehend that  elementary distinction. (The KKK and Kony’s infamous Lord’s Resistance Army are ostensibly Christian, but none of us is likely to identify all of Christianity with either.) Next, it is highly problematic that Donald Trump has taken sides in that well-known internal division in Islam between Sunni and Shia. The latest thing about Qatar is related in part to that. It is so ironic that both Al-Qaeda and Isis derive from the Sunni strain of Islam, not from the Shia, of which Iran is the main representative. Isis’s ideology is an extreme version of Saudi Arabia’s WahhabismSo from that country that Mr Trump seems to love so much nowadays where public beheadings are not uncommon: see Donald Trump fails to raise Saudi Arabia’s human rights record on Middle East tour.

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Saudi street scene

Next comes an interesting article in the last Saturday PaperTerror spokesman Abu Sulayman al-Muhajir on a new Islamic state. But first you do need to check out who this guy is: Abu Sulayman: The rise of Australia’s most senior man in Al Qaeda. He certainly has come a long way since Bankstown. Here is a quote:

Abu Sulayman met with Baghdadi half-a-dozen times, spending 24 hours with him on one of those occasions. He provided the following startling assessment of the Daesh caliph:

“Baghdadi has the brain the size of a peanut. A serious airhead, an idiot. I seriously had my bubble burst when I met him for the first time. I expected someone much deeper. He is not a sophisticated thinker. He’s a blustering buffoon. I’d describe him as having [US president] Bush’s intellect and Trump’s temperament. He was always ranting about the most childish issues. ‘Bring Julani to me now,’ he’d say. ‘How dare he not come and see me face to face?’ Very childish. And a horrible liar.”

Abu Sulayman also asserted: “Baghdadi is not ISIS,” claiming his title of caliph is “just a name” and that “other people are running the show”. When I asked whether these “other people” were Saddam-era Baathists, he replied: “Not Baathists. Others in the organisation.”

Next, in these days we would do well to study Wikipedia’s Terrorism in Australia just to get a due sense of proportion.

Finally, there is no doubt that what happened in Brighton Victoria the other day is dreadful. But it is also obvious that, as the Victorian Police Commissioner said in the press conference I watched on News 24 Isis claiming responsibility is something they always do, whether or not they really had any direct hand in the matter. Makes them look “good” to their deluded and demented fan base. And what about parole? Everyone from the Prime Minister down is wondering how on earth the perp was on parole, given that a few years ago he was acquitted on a charge related to a foiled terror plan concerning Holsworthy barracks in Sydney. But there you go — acquitted. The parole he was on had nothing to do with that.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said Khayre had served time for a 2012 home invasion and could not get parole when his minimum sentence of three years was served because of “terrible behaviour” in prison.

He was granted parole in December last year. “(Since then) he’s been compliant, including drug tests, attending appointments and observing a curfew,” Mr Andrews told reporters on Tuesday.

“As with all these matters though, we’ll look at each and every element of the act and if there are learnings and improvements that can be made, we stand ready to do that.”

In our system. which we are meant to be defending, you can’t go around locking up everyone who might do something. And when it comes to parole — sure, due caution: but it could be argued that in fact was observed in this case. Parole boards do not have psychic powers. So what is the alternative? Do away with parole altogether? There would be a host of undesirable consequences from that. See also Parole supervision and reoffending.

The current study sought to address two questions of importance to correctional policy:

  1. Does unconditional release increase the risk, speed or seriousness of further offending compared with conditional release?
  2. Does less frequent supervision increase the risk, speed or seriousness of further offending compared with more frequent supervision?

The results of this part of the study revealed that offenders who received parole supervision upon release from custody took longer to commit a new offence, were less likely to commit a new indictable offence and committed fewer offences than offenders who were released unconditionally into the community. The answer to question (2) is that more active supervision can reduce parolee recidivism but only if it is rehabilitation focused.

Update

See What the Islamic State Wants in Attacking Iran.

After years of waiting and wanting to strike Iran, the Islamic State claims to have finally done so. According to recent news reports, four militants went on a shooting spree in Iran’s parliament, while other operatives detonated a bomb inside the mausoleum of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, killing 12 people. If the Islamic State indeed ordered the attacks, it has struck at the temporal and spiritual heart of the Iranian revolutionary government.

The Islamic State has aimed to strike Iran since at least 2007, when it openly threatened to attack the country for supporting the Shiite-dominated government in Iraq. It regards Persian Shiites as apostate traitors who have sold out the Sunni Arabs to Israel and the United States. This determination to strike Iran marked a key difference with al Qaeda, which long held off attacking the Islamic Republic in order to use it as a rear base and financial hub…

The attacks follow several weeks of heightened rhetorical animosity between Riyadh and Tehran.

After London — inspiring and not so inspiring

How great that the concert in Manchester was such a success!

Not so great — all but one of Donald Trump’s post-London tweets. One was presidential:

Whatever the United States can do to help out in London and the U. K., we will be there – WE ARE WITH YOU. GOD BLESS!

But alas he can’t help himself, as CNN reports. Correctly too:

After a night’s sleep, Trump woke up Sunday morning and, around 8 a.m., fired off three more tweets.
“We must stop being politically correct and get down to the business of security for our people. If we don’t get smart it will only get worse,” Trump started.
“At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is “no reason to be alarmed!,” he continued.
“Do you notice we are not having a gun debate right now? That’s because they used knives and a truck!,” he ended.
Of those five, one is the sort of thing you can imagine a president not named Donald Trump saying in the wake of a major terrorism event like the one in London; that’s the second one Saurday night in which he pledges to help London in whatever way they need it and insists America stands with them.
The other four tweets are pure Trump — and the exact opposite of what we have long considered “presidential.”
In one — the first he sends out — he uses the just-breaking terror attacks as a way to make the case for his travel ban, which continues to be hung up in the courts.
In another, he suggests political correctness is responsible for the attack, a common Trump refrain during the campaign.
In a third, he takes on those pushing gun control — noting that they are silent because these attacks didn’t involve guns.
And, finally and most Trumpian, he attacks the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, for allegedly insisting that the people of London have “no reason to be alarmed.”
As is often the case with Trump, he has taken that comment from Khan heavily out of context. In a statement, Khan said: “Londoners will see an increased police presence today and over the course of the next few days. There’s no reason to be alarmed. One of the things the police and all of us need to do is ensure that we’re as safe as we possibly can be.”
Khan is clearly referring not to the threat from terrorists but to the increased police presence when he uses the words “no reason to be alarmed.” Trump chooses to misunderstand him for political purposes.
Trump tweeting things to forward his own agenda in the wake of terrorist attacks is nothing new. Following shootings in an Orlando nightclub that left 53 people dead, Trump offered this: “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!” After an incident of a knife-wielding man at the Louvre Museum in Paris, Trump tweeted: “A new radical Islamic terrorist has just attacked in Louvre Museum in Paris. Tourists were locked down. France on edge again. GET SMART U.S.”
In short, the tweetstorm following the London attacks isn’t the exception, it’s the rule for Trump. Using these attacks to prove his political point is his default position not a one-time popping off.
Trump’s responses are the latest example of how he is radically altering the idea of what it means to be “presidential.”

Sad!

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