Thursday, April 30, 2015

Australian Radical Islamist Center Closes; Is that Enough? - Elliot Friedland

by Elliot Friedland

Extremist Islamists contend the closure of the radical Al-Furqan Center leaves disenfranchised young men with nowhere to go. Other groups provide answers.

Australian police arrest a suspect in a raid against Islamic State militants. (Photo: © Reuters)
Australian police arrest a suspect in a raid against Islamic State militants. (Photo: © Reuters)

An Australian Islamic bookshop and outreach center closed down after it was proven to have multiple links with known terrorists.

Last week five teenagers were arrested for planning terrorist attacks in Melbourne on ANZAC Day, Australia’s Memorial Day for servicemen and women killed in World War I. Of those, three were known to frequent the Al-Furqan Center.

The Al-Furqan Center’s organizers blamed law enforcement officials in an formal statement: “This statement is to announce that, effective immediately, Al-Furqan Islamic Centre is ceasing its activities and closing its doors. This decision has not been taken lightly. We believe that given the constant harassment, pressure and false accusations levelled against the centre – particularly by media and politicians – this is the best course of action for the protection of the local community, its members, and the broader Muslim community that is often implicated in these insidious campaigns.”

There have been at least five individuals who frequented the center with a known connection to terrorism since 2012.

In addition to the two arrested last week these include:

·         Abdul Numan Haider, an 18 year old who stabbed two police officers and was shot and killed by police on September 23 2014.

·         Adnan Karabegovic, who was arrested in 2012 for possessing a copy of the Al-Qaeda magazine Inspire and is charged with possessing material “connected with assistance in a terrorist act.” The trial is set for October 2015 and he has been released on bail.

·         Neil Prakash, who goes by the name Abu Khaled al-Cambodi, an Islamic State recruiter now resident in Syria and is being investigated in connection with the ANZAC Day plot. He recently released a recruitment video urging terrorist attacks by Muslims in Australia.

Yet despite these manifest links to terror, other hardline groups criticized the closure of the Al-Furqan center, arguing that making radicals feel heard is essential in combatting terrorism.

Mustafa Yusuf, the spokesman for the fundamentalist group the Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jamaah Association, said that Al-Furqan would have "fizzled out" if it had been allowed to continue.
He argued that in order to combat radicalization, extremists must be allowed to feel that their voices have been heard. Only then, he argues, can they be brought back into the mainstream.

This is why, according to Yusuf, his organization met with two famous internet preachers and invited them to the group’s center, run by Sheikh Mohammed Omran, whose student broke away and started the Al-Furqan Center.

He told the Sydney Morning HeraldMusa Cerantonio and Junaid Thorne came to our centre. We did a lot of work to get those two misguided men to our centres. Omran said, 'your knowledge is shallow. Come and learn”

Both Cerantonio and Thorne had their passports cancelled by the government and have expressed support for the Islamic State.

Cerantonio was cited in a report by the International Center for the Study of Radicalization as one of the Islamic State’s leading online cheerleaders, while Thorne boasted that terrorist Abdul Numan Haider had attended his lectures, which he delivered at the Al-Furqan Center.

Yusuf acknowledged that there has been no progress in attempts to ‘de-radicalize’ the two preachers through dialogue. Given the company he keeps, his sincerity in reigning in radical views is highly suspect.

As Yusuf argues, disenfranchised young men need a place to be brought in from the cold. But his attempts at ‘dialogue’ with the most radical preachers available seem to have increased rather than decreased radicalization.

Groups like the UK based Quilliam Foundation, by contrast, are able to engage in counter-extremism work effectively, since they have credibility with the groups that they work with and a coherent counter-narrative that offers individuals an alternative.

Such work seems to be the only functional long term approach with proven success at de-radicalization, far beyond mere closures of radical mosques. 

Elliot Friedland


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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