Are the countries of the Pacific at risk of becoming a gateway for terrorists?
A recent attack in New Zealand highlights the need for greater regional cooperation in the fight against terrorism in the Pacific, writes Jose Sousa-Santos.
In the aftermath of the August “lone wolf” terror attack in Auckland, New Zealand, it was revealed that the Islamic State radicalized perpetrator, Ahamed Aathil Mohamed Samsudeen, had visited Samoa in 2016. As far as concerns, this trip took place while on New Zealand’s terrorism watch list.
In April and May of that year, Samsudeen was formally warned by New Zealand police about their online activities, which allegedly included posting comments advocating violent extremism and expressing support for the Islamic State’s terrorist attacks. However, in November he was able to board a plane on short notice and fly to Samoa for four days.
New Zealand police reportedly believed Samsudeen had undertaken this trip as a “Training race”, to see if it would be detected when leaving New Zealand.
The Samsudeen case highlights two key issues for regional security. First, terrorist activity beyond the islands – including Australia and New Zealand – may have direct implications for the Pacific Island region. This is not because the Pacific Islands will become radical training camps, but because the Pacific is likely to become a gateway for terrorist organizations and groups targeting Australia and New Zealand.
This is likely to be in conjunction with the transnational criminal syndicates which are increasingly present in the region, as seen in other regions of the world across the world. link between crime and terror. The factors that allow criminal organizations and terrorist groups to use the Pacific as a communication channel are the same, namely low risk of detection, porous borders, limited means to fight crime and corruption.
Second, this case highlights the need for effective intelligence-sharing and enforcement mechanisms in the region. Samsudeen’s choice of where to test was probably deliberate; Samoa had a much lower risk of detection at the border than Australia.
In response, the Samoan government demand Samsudeen’s Transnational Crime Unit investigating Samsudeen’s trip – including how he was able to get there given that he was on New Zealand’s Terrorism Watchlist and what ‘he did during his stay in the country. New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade declared that there was no information to suggest that he posed a safety risk at the time of his trip.
The fight against terrorism has an uneven history in the Pacific. This is hardly surprising given that the region has historically received very little threat from a terrorist attack. There was a spike in attention after 9/11, but it was largely driven by Australia as it aligned itself with the US-led âwar on terrorâ.
Some of the efforts to integrate counterterrorism initiatives into the regional architecture include the 2002 Pacific Islands Forum Nasonini declaration on regional security, who called on leaders to introduce national legislation and strategies to deal with transnational threats, including terrorism.
The Pacific Islands Forum Counterterrorism Task Force met annually for eight years between 2004 and 2012 to support policy and law development across the Pacific. In 2005, Pasifika Loan Exercise was hosted by New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, with former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark declaring: âIt is important that the region is not a weak link in the anti-terrorism chain.
More recently, the national security policies of four Pacific island countries – Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu – all refer to the global counterterrorism effort and identify it as a security threat. transnational. Vanuatu’s national security strategy specifically recommends developing mechanisms to monitor and respond to possible terrorist threats.
As unlikely as a terrorist attack in the Pacific is, it is possible that the Pacific will be an artery or gateway to targets in Australia or New Zealand. This potential is heightened by the likelihood of an increase in terrorist activity globally, including in Southeast Asia and following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
However, with the political focus shifting towards competition from the great powers, there is a risk that the fight against terrorism and the nexus between crime and terrorism will receive less and less attention from policy makers.
AAs the case of Samsudeen demonstrated, the Pacific is seen as a flexible security environment. But counterterrorism initiatives can be strengthened in the region by other means. Efforts to fight transnational crime will result in a less permissive environment and help law enforcement and security agencies target entities using the crime-terrorism nexus to facilitate their operations.
In addition, pay more attention to the link between state competition and gray area activities in the Pacific could lead to better intelligence sharing and enforcement mechanisms, as well as training. A Pacific more capable in the face of complex security threats will be in a better position to respond to new terrorist threats.