This week’s terrorist attack on Berlin reminds us that no Western city is immune from the assault of radical Islamists. In recent times, there have been terrorist murders in Paris, Brussels, Orlando, Nice and now Berlin. And Melbourne narrowly escaped a similar fate around April-May last year.
On December 7, Justice Lex Lasry handed down sentence in the case of The Queen v MHK. MHK is an 18-year-old who was born in Melbourne of Syrian-born parents. MHK was radicalised by JH. JH, who is believed to be dead, was a British citizen who planned a terrorist attack in London in 2013. Soon after, JH moved to Syria from where he made contact with MHK last year.
The Queen v MHK has received surprisingly little media attention in Australia, partly because the accused gave evidence and pleaded guilty, and partly because December has been a busy month for news in Australia and internationally with Donald J. Trump and all that.
Lasry found that MHK was planning to detonate a bomb in Melbourne along the lines of the attack by the Tsarnaev brothers in the Boston marathon bombing of April 2013.
MHK assembled two pressure-cooker bombs, plus seven steel pipe explosives, along with five boxes of screws, which were intended for use as shrapnel.
MHK’s potential targets included the Melbourne central business district, a train or a police station. He provided evidence that this was what God wanted him to do, namely to inflict death and injury on a wide scale. Evidence before the court demonstrated that MHK used “ISIS (Islamic State) style language of hate for non-Muslims and Shi’ite Muslims”.
Lasry accepted the submission of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions that the offence for which MHK was convicted stood “at the apex” of seriousness in offending against commonwealth law. The maximum penalty is life imprisonment.
The judge was not personally soft on MHK in coming to his decision. His sentence was reached on the basis that the only reason these bombs were not activated in a public place turned on the fact the police intervened and the defendant was arrested. This is another example of a terrorist attack in Australia being thwarted by police and intelligence services.
Lasry found that MHK was short on remorse, and he was not fully convinced about the defendant’s prospects of rehabilitation. And the sentence? MHK received a minimum term of five years and three months before being eligible for parole. At the time of the sentence MHK had already served 579 days in pre-sentence detention at a youth justice centre. The judge recommended authorities avoid holding MHK in an adult prison.
In view of the evidence, this is a disturbingly light sentence. It would have been even softer if the judge had his way. Lasry would have preferred a minimum term of four years but was prevented from doing so because of a technicality in the Commonwealth Crimes Act.
Sure, at the time of his crime, MHK was under 18 and, consequently, a juvenile.
Moreover, he gave evidence and pleaded guilty. And MHK exhibited some regret and was found to have good prospects for rehabilitation.
Lasry believes MHK’s sentence gives proper weights to considerations such as punishment, general deterrence and protection of the community.
However, it is not clear that a sentence of 5¼ years minimum, all of which may be served in the juvenile detention system, is much of a deterrence. It remains to be seen whether the sentence will be appealed by the CDPP.
MHK is an Australian of Sunni Muslim Syrian background. The Australian government does not support the Syrian government, led by Bashar al-Assad, which is aligned to Shia Muslims.
Even so, MHK planned to bomb indiscriminately people of all nationalities and faiths who happened to be in a certain place in Melbourne mid last year on account of his opposition to the Assad regime’s treatment of Sunni Muslims.
This despite the fact MHK’s family voluntarily chose to live in Australia and that he has enjoyed the considerable benefits that are part of Australian citizenship. Yet, in mid-2015, at the age of 17, MHK regarded Australia as his enemy and was prepared to be a mass murderer to express his anger.
When news of the 2013 Boston marathon bombings broke, Monash University academic Waleed Aly wrote in Fairfax Media that “terrorism is a grotesque form of theatre”. He went on to describe terrorism as a “perpetual irritant”.
This is the kind of naive statement that would be made only by a member of the left-intelligentsia.
In the past year or so, major capital cities such as Paris, Brussels and now Berlin have been disrupted by indiscriminate acts of terrorism.
Meanwhile, authorities in Britain have expressed concern that up to 800 British citizens and residents who went to fight in Syria will soon return home and again threaten London.
Then there is the matter of refugees and asylum-seekers. The evidence suggests a Tunisian man — who unsuccessfully sought refugee status in Germany and when this was declined remained in the country — is responsible for the Berlin attack. Another Tunisian drove the murder truck in Nice on Bastille Day.
This was neither theatre nor an irritant. Because Britain and Australia are islands, both nations are better equipped than others in controlling their borders.
Moreover, neither country adopts the open-borders policy that applies within the EU’s Schengen zone (which covers the likes of Austria, Belgium, France and Germany).
The Schengen agreement, when created two decades ago, never anticipated that radical Islamists would choose to enter and move freely within western Europe with an intention to destroy it. It is this reality that explains the contemporary success of the Right in Europe: Marine Le Pen in France, Geert Wilders in The Netherlands and possibly the Alternative fuer Deutschland in Germany following the Berlin atrocity. It also assisted president-elect Trump.