(Reuters) – The children of refugees who fled Lebanon’s civil war for peaceful Australia in the 1970s form a majority of Australian militants fighting in the Middle East, according to about a dozen counter-terrorism officials, security experts and Muslim community members.
Of the 160 or so Australian jihadists believed to be in Iraq or Syria, several are in senior leadership positions, they say.
But unlike fighters from Britain, France or Germany, who experts say are mostly jobless and alienated, a number of the Australian fighters grew up in a tight-knit criminal gang culture, dominated by men with family ties to the region around the Lebanese city of Tripoli, near the border with Syria.
Not every gang member becomes an Islamic radical and the vast majority of Lebanese Australians are not involved in crime or in radicalism of any sort. Australian Muslims say they are unfairly targeted by law enforcement, especially after the surge in fighting in Iraq and Syria, and that racial tensions are on the verge of spiraling out of control.
Still, there is a clear nexus between criminals and radicals within the immigrant Lebanese Muslim community, New South Wales Deputy Police Commissioner Nick Kaldas told Reuters.
“It is good training,” said Kaldas, himself an immigrant from Egypt and a native Arabic speaker.
The ease with which some hardened criminals from within the community have taken to militant extremism, and the prospect of what they will do when they return home from the Middle East battle-trained, is a major worry for authorities, he said…