Suicide terrorism may have arrived in Australia.

Recent attacks including the Parramatta shooting suggest “suicide terrorism” may have arrived in Australia, which would make the threat even more dangerous and difficult for security agencies, writes Nick O’Brien.

By Nick O’Brien

Many people associate suicide terrorism with a bomber blowing him or herself up with an improvised explosive device and killing others in the process.

A US study of suicide terrorism known as the “Chicago Project” describes a suicide attack as “an attack in which an attacker kills himself or herself to kill others”.

However, the Collins dictionary describes a suicide attack as “a terrorist attack which someone undertakes knowing that he or she will die in the attack”.

I would argue that this definition more accurately describes a suicide attack. If you accept the second definition, Australia has seen both planned and actual suicide attacks. It is important because suicide attacks are more difficult for the police to deal with as the attacker wants to die, unlike a more conventional murderer who wants to escape.

An example of this kind of attempted suicide terrorism occurred in the UK in 2013 when a soldier, Lee Rigby, was hacked to death by two attackers who then stayed at the scene, charging at armed police when they arrived and subsequently being shot although not killed.

In the case of Islamist terrorism, suicide attackers believe that they are going to get a number of benefits when they die, including going straight to paradise, being able to intercede to get 70 members of their family to heaven and of course the much talked about 72 virgins.

In Australia in 2009 the Holsworthy Barracks plot was discovered where it was alleged that a group of men intended to attack people on the military base with automatic firearms (Operation Neath).

In 2010 a telephone conversation between one of the perpetrators and his mother, which took place prior to the arrests, was reported in which the terrorist said: “Don’t you want paradise? Don’t you want your son and yourself to go paradise to the highest degree?” Those two sentences seem to be a clear reference to the benefits received by suicide attackers.

suicide terrorism in australia
What exactly happened in the Parramatta shooting is still unclear. Photo: 7 News Sydney (supplied).

In 2014 at Endeavour Hills police station, Victoria, Numan Haider attacked two armed police officers with a knife before being shot and killed. While we will never know what was in his mind immediately prior to the attack, it would not be unreasonable to conclude that he did not expect to survive the attack and assumed he would be killed.

Later in 2014 Man Haron Monis took hostages at the Lindt Café in Martin Place. Did he expect to die in the attack? He was on bail for a number of sexual offences and as an accessory to the murder of his former partner. He must have known that if he was arrested he would either have died in prison or emerged to freedom as a very old man.

In addition it was reported that he had converted from Shia Islam to Sunni Islam, the form of Islam followed by the Islamic State (IS) and IS are promoters and users of suicide terrorism.

And now we come to the brutal and callous murder of Curtis Cheng outside the Parramatta Police Station. What exactly what happened is still unclear. However, reporting indicates that the gunman shot Mr Cheng and then instead of attempting to flee, he continued firing his weapon.

The gunman must have known that there would have been many armed police in the vicinity and again, whilst we do not know what was in his mind, it would not be unreasonable to conclude that he expected to die. Suicide by cop and suicide terrorism?

Apart from the above possible suicide attacks in Australia, we know that Australians have committed suicide attacks overseas, perhaps the latest being Melbourne teenager Jake Bilardi.

Any kind of suicide terrorism is difficult for police to deal with as most of their training is based on the assumption that perpetrators want to live and do not want to wait around to be shot by police. It would also be true to say that, in Australia, police have not been terrorist targets. That has changed as evidenced by the Endeavour Hills and Parramatta attacks.

There is no doubt that we are entering a more difficult and more dangerous phase of terrorism in Australia. The threat is unprecedented with 400 high priority cases being investigated and now the problem of suicide terrorism to deal with.

Nick O’Brien is Associate Professor Counter Terrorism at Charles Sturt University. He was previously a police officer at Scotland Yard, London.

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