Australian counterterrorism police are questioning hundreds of people daily at the country’s airports in an attempt to prevent the outflow of jihadists to Syria and Iraq. Between August and February, the newly established Border Force Counter-Terrorism Unit (CTU) conducted nearly 76,000 “real-time” assessments at airports, Fairfax Media reported, citing an immigration ministry spokeswoman.
“Since their deployment … Counter-Terrorism Unit teams have successfully intercepted a number of people of national security concern,” the spokeswoman reportedly said, adding that these assessments involved pulling suspicious travelers aside and asking them a series of questions to determine whether they pose a threat to national security. However, she did not disclose what proportion of these suspects was subjected to further actions.
Australia’s Social Services Minister Scott Morrison also declined to say whether the CTU was resorting to racial profiling to decide who is subjected to interrogation at airports, according to media reports. The CTU, established in August last year, operates at eight international airports in Australia.
Joseph Wakim, founder of the Australian Arabic Council, told Fairfax Media that he knew many innocent Muslims who were picked up at random for interrogation by airport authorities. “I can't prove that (racial profiling) occurs but I know of many people, and I believe them, that expect to be picked at ‘random’ without fail because of their appearance,” he reportedly said.
According to a recent report by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence, a London-based think tank, the number of foreign fighters who have joined extremist groups, including ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, in Syria and Iraq has exceeded 20,000. Per capita, Australia is one the biggest contributors of foreign jihadists to the region. In December last year, following an alleged increase in the number of Australian nationals killed fighting for ISIS, the country’s government had accused the militant group of using Australians as “cannon fodder.”