DAN TEHAN | The AGE| December 11|2015
The case of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris this year highlights the danger posed by terrorists who have been released from jail despite continuing to pose a high risk to society. Once back in the community, any unreformed terrorist is a serious risk to national security.
In the Charlie Hebdo example, Cherif Kouachi’s story of repeated terrorist offences, prison time and radicalisation stands as testament to this. Cherif was arrested in 2005 for recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq, the group that would become Daesh. His three year sentence was meant to prevent his activities but it was inside prison that Cherif met Ahmed Coulibaly.
After being released, Cherif would go on to commit the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Cherif’s prison mate, Coulibaly, would go on to commit the Porte de Vincennes siege, killing four and wounding nine.
At home, reports of Australian terrorists and prison gangs using their time in jail to recruit and radicalise other inmates are equally disturbing. A plot was reportedly uncovered earlier this year in which radicalised prison members planned to kidnap and behead correctional officers and other prisoners who would not convert to their perverted version of Islam.
While there is debate about the capacity or success of reform and rehabilitation efforts for terrorists in jail, sadly, much like some sexual offenders, there will always be those who are only waiting for the opportunity to attack again.
Discussions about how this is dealt with inside prisons are needed. Some states have deradicalisation programs that should be encouraged. But preventing convicted terrorists, who are assessed to remain radicalised after a jail term and are intent on violence, from re-joining the community is a priority.
This is why the Prime Minister is right to explore the possibility of applying post-sentence detention laws to terrorists.
Justice systems in Queensland, Western Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and the Northern Territory already have laws that are applied to some repeat or dangerous offenders who are a risk to the community even after they have done their time. These schemes could be applied in the case of terrorist offences.
In South Australia, a scheme for sexual offenders who are incapable or unwilling to control their criminal behaviour allows the AttorneyGeneral to apply for the continued detention of the offender. This application is reviewed by South Australia’s Supreme Court.
The Federal parliament delivered another plank of the Government’s answer to the growing threat of terrorism and foreign fighters last week with the passage of the Citizenship Amendments Bill. However, it does not cover the full threat posed by people convicted of terrorism offences.
The bill, reviewed by the bipartisan parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security, will strip the citizenship of dual nationals convicted of serious terrorism offences in Australia. These laws will allow us to deal with terrorists with dual citizenship who have decided to abandon their allegiance to Australia.
Sole Australian citizens, for valid reasons, were left out of the legislation. There were serious concerns over leaving these people stateless, the responsibility of our international obligations and the division of powers.
A uniform, national solution, however, needs to be put in place for any Australian citizen who has done jail time for serious terrorism offences. In looking to keep communities safe, we need to find pre-existing measures that are fair and legal but strong enough to prevent an offender from taking advantage of our system.
The best way to do this is by treating terrorists like serial paedophiles, as both prey on innocent and vulnerable people in society. Terrorists who are imprisoned and who end their terms unreformed must be treated as an ongoing threat.
Passing uniform laws in each state and territory to allow for indefinite detention legislation that can be applied post-sentence on unreformed terrorists is a practical and sensible answer. The High Court has already ruled that similar schemes, appropriately safeguarded, are valid. Our state counterparts could deal with this threat quickly using schemes already on the books for sexual and violent offenders.
Placing terrorists in the same category as sexual offenders who remain a threat to public safety is a clear, common sense control. It would demonstrate our steadfast commitment to combating the evil of terrorism, just as we combat any other evil in our community.