Govt puts $64m into preventing Australian-grown terrorists

COUNTERING the threat of home-grown terrorism is one of the fundamental tenets of the Federal Government's latest $64 million counter-terrorism measures.

"We've woken up to the fact that more than 150 Australians have gone to Syria to join the jihadi groups and dozens more in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane are supporting them," said Professor Greg Barton of Monash University.

"There is a sudden realisation that 'heavens this is a big problem'. One of the scary things is that there have been incidents that have linked these extremists who go away to conflict zones with the ongoing concerns we have had with home-grown terrorists, which is regarded as the emergent threat.

"The link is there and the numbers are larger than we thought and we've being trying desperately to stop people going, but we haven't succeeded. There is a real sense of anxiety that this is running away from us."

The latest funding will include $11 million for a special Australian Federal Police unit to stop people from taking up arms for overseas terrorist groups, $6m to target returning foreign fighters and their supporters and $13m to boost community engagement programs.

It is the latter, especially, says Prof Barton, that may best help to cut the flow, with overseas programs showing that community engagement programs are one of the most effective ways to stop radical young men from heading overseas to join extremist groups.

"We know that 70% of the people radicalised by these extremist groups are men in their late teens or early 20s," said Prof Barton.

"This demographic generally has a number of vulnerabilities including their identity and role in society. They are particularly shaped by their peer group and are taken in by a sense of friendship and belonging."

These men are quick to take up the beliefs of the group, says Prof Barton, who is the acting director of the Centre for Islam and the Modern World.

While they join in the first instance for social relations, they are unable to extricate themselves when violence looms. Therein lies the danger.

"This countering violence approach that the government is talking about is geared to ensure that they never join that wayward circle of friends in the first place," said Prof Barton.

"The idea is that if you build strong social networks, keep people busy, get them focused on positive stuff, it takes them away from bad company that can lead them astray."

But if these young men are searching for a sense of identity, why are they not embracing their Australian identity instead?

Prof Barton said that it was not that these young men did not see themselves as Australian, it was that they identified more strongly with the underground extremist groups that saw themselves as better than mainstream Muslim groups.

"These groups feel they have to do something different, that they are superior," he said.

"Although they are not driven by particular issues in Australia per se, they define themselves as being 'true believers' not listening to the imams and sheiks they see as being on the payroll of the government."

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