US vigilance may push terror elsewhere

Source:Global Times Published: 2014-12-18 0:53:01

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The world was taken aback when Australia, conventionally a safe country, witnessed a 16-hour siege in a cafe in Sydney on Monday, which left two hostages and also the attacker dead.

The incident that happened in Lindt Chocolat Cafe in Martin Place in the business district has attracted worldwide attention since the perpetrator was an Iranian refugee and has a religious background, in the context of rampant Islamic State (IS) extremists.

It was highlighted in almost all media reports that during the siege, hostages were seen holding up a black flag against the cafe windows, with Arabic words reading that "There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger."

The hostage-taker, identified as Man Haron Monis, was reportedly familiar to Australian police and had recently switched from Shia to Sunni Islam. Monis was disclosed to have a history of violence and sexual offences with more than 40 charges and was considered by some acquaintances to be a mentally disturbed loner. In 2009, he was found guilty of writing to families of Australian soldiers who died in the Afghanistan mission, calling them "Hitler's soldiers." According to the Australian Prime Minister's statement on Wednesday, Monis was once on the national security agency's watch list but was removed for unclear reasons years ago.

According to Reuters, his website, which has already been closed, showed a man enraged by Australian courts and perceived injustices against Muslims in Iran and Afghanistan.

Police have just started investigation into Monis' motives and there has been no confirmation that the hostage-taking is a terrorist attack. Evidence is also absent to show the incident has any direct connection with international terrorist organizations. It's premature to jump to any quick judgment.

But it's undeniable that the attack did have the characteristics of terrorism and may not be an accidental case. It's indirectly linked to Australia's role as a close follower of the US in many aspects including counter-terrorism mission in the Middle East.

For years, Australia enjoyed immunity from terrorism. Compared with other US allies, it is relatively safe since it is distant from the often targeted Middle East and the US. But as now the US becomes harder to reach given its high vigilance, Australia may be seen as an easy target by those terrorists.

On the same day, a 25-year-old man was arrested in Sydney on suspicion of plotting to orchestrating a terrorist attack in the country, though this was said to have no relation to the tragic siege.

But it is more likely that Monis, who sought political asylum in Australia in 1996 from Iran, has been mentally disturbed by the country's cooperation with the US in fighting terrorism, given his religious activism.

Australia was one of the first few countries to join the US-led coalition fighting the IS in September and pledged planes and troops to the Middle East. But as the counter-terrorism efforts are not working well, there appears to be new trends emerging in terms of terror attacks.

These attacks are heading toward countries and regions that were not previously targets  such as Australia, and they take on a form of individual behavior instead of conventionally organized actions. This adds to the complexity of the counter-terrorism campaign.

Australia has to give serious and prudent consideration to its national strategy of close connection with the US in military and foreign policy, though an instant alteration is unlikely.

Meanwhile, it has to take more seriously the counter-terrorism efforts by other countries that are also becoming targets of terrorist attacks such as China and understand their needs.

The article was compiled by Global Times reporter Sun Xiaobo based on an interview with Su Hao, director of the Asia-Pacific Research Center at China Foreign Affairs University.

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