Australia

Threats from far-right extremists have skyrocketed in Australia, with ASIO comparing tactics to IS

Deputy Director-General of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) Heather Cook. Source: AAP

Threats from far-right extremists take up between 30 and 40 per cent of ASIO's resources, up from only 15 per cent half a decade ago.

Australia's domestic intelligence agency has revealed far-right extremists are increasingly occupying its caseload.

ASIO deputy director-general Heather Cook confirmed right-wing violence now occupies between 30 and 40 per cent of the intelligence organisation's counter-terrorism cases, more than a third of the agency's workload, up from 10 to 15 per cent prior to 2016.

Ms Cook compared the recruiting practices of far-right extremists to that of the Islamic State (IS), amid fears the coronavirus pandemic could exacerbate the threat of terrorism.

"Not dissimilar to the way ISIL [IS] used its propaganda and its ability to manipulate social media to recruit the young and the vulnerable, I think we are seeing a similar phenomenon being used by some in that extreme right-wing milieu to good effect," Ms Cook told a parliamentary inquiry into counter-terrorism legislation on Tuesday.

"Some of the circumstances of COVID have contributed to an increase in radicalisation, in particular, because of the amount of time individuals are spending in isolation, or working from home, or not in school ... and the amount of time individuals are spending online."

Extreme right-wing networks are not new but are now "better organised and more sophisticated than their predecessors," a joint submission from ASIO, the Australian Federal Police (AFP), Department of Home Affairs, Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Attorney-General to the inquiry said.

The submission also detailed one instance of an Australian right-wing extremist who was stopped while attempting to travel to fight overseas earlier this year.

Comparatively, about 230 known Australians - or former citizens - have travelled to fight in Syria and Iraq since 2012, the submission read. Of these, 120 are believed to be dead.

The most significant terrorist threat in Australia remains from Sunni Islamic extremists inspired and directed by overseas groups, the government said.

Earlier this year, the country's top intelligence chief, ASIO director-general Mike Burgess, warned that Neo-Nazis were becoming one of the most significant threats to Australia's security, but did not disclose the percentage of resources being dedicated to the issue.

He did, however, state that children as young as 13 years old were being targeted by extremist recruiters, and said the number of terrorism leads under investigation had doubled over the past year.

Tuesday's revelation follows concerns raised by academics that the pandemic could be used to further extreme right-wing agendas, including anti-migrant sentiments.

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