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 Revocation of al-Raqqa province, Syria declaration

On 27 November 2017, the Minister for Foreign Affairs revoked the declaration of al-Raqqa province, Syria under subsection 119.3(5) of the Criminal Code.

Since the liberation of al-Raqqa city from Islamic State on 20 October 2017, ASIO has no information to indicate the group has engaged in hostile activity within the geographical boundary of the al-Raqqa province declared area. Islamic State continues to engage in hostile activity elsewhere in Syria, as well as across the globe.

Subsection 119.3(5) of the Criminal Code requires the Minister for Foreign Affairs to revoke a declaration where the Minister ceases to be satisfied that a listed terrorist organisation is engaging in hostile activity in a declared area.

This statement is based on publicly available information about areas where the proscribed terrorist group—Islamic State—has engaged in hostile activity. To the Australian Government’s knowledge, this information is accurate, reliable and has been corroborated by classified information.

Basis for declaring an area in a foreign country where a listed terrorist organisation is engaging in hostile activity

Under section 119.3 of the Criminal Code, the Minister for Foreign Affairs may, by legislative instrument, declare an area in a foreign country for the purposes of section 119.2. Before declaring an area in a foreign country for the purposes of section 119.2, the Minister must be satisfied that a listed terrorist organisation is engaging in a hostile activity in that area of the foreign country.

Section 119.2 makes it an offence for a person to enter, or remain in, an area in a foreign country if the area is an area declared by the Minister for Foreign Affairs under section 119.3.

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Background to this declaration

Proscription of the group engaged in hostile activity

Islamic State was listed as a proscribed terrorist organisation by the Australian government on 11 July 2014 and was re-listed on 27 June 2017.

The group has been operating in Iraq under various names since 2003. It was first listed as a proscribed terrorist organisation under the Arabic name Tanzim Qa’idat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn in 2005. It was then re-listed under the names al-Qa’ida in Iraq and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Islamic State has been active in the Syria conflict since late 2011. On 29 June 2014, the group proclaimed an Islamic caliphate in areas it controlled in Iraq and Syria; and has since been known as Islamic State.

Islamic State follows an extreme interpretation of Islam which is anti Western, promotes sectarian violence and targets those that do not agree with its interpretations as infidels and apostates. Islamic State is one of the world’s deadliest and most active terrorist organisations and conducts frequent attacks on security forces and civilians in Iraq and Syria; and against rival armed groups. Islamic State also inspires, encourages, enables and directs attacks internationally. The group incites and conducts violence against Muslims and non-Muslim religious minorities within the region, and conducts public executions and violent punishments in areas it controls.

Geographic basis of the group’s activities

Given the liberation of al-Raqqa city from Islamic State on 20 October 2017 and the ongoing military operations in Syria more broadly; the geographic areas of Islamic State’s hostile activity are now less defined than they were in December 2014.

As at October 2017, Islamic State has been militarily defeated in a vast majority of the territory it once claimed in Iraq and Syria, including in al-Raqqa province. Islamic State has likely moved its functions, key personnel and base of operations further down the Euphrates River in the Syrian province of Dayr az-Zawr. Over the declaration period, Islamic State changed its focus from the conquest of territory, to maintaining governance, and more recently to defending territory and consolidating resources.

Al-Raqqa city served as Islamic State’s headquarters until its liberation. Islamic State frequently conducted hostile activities in the city of al-Raqqa, and in the broader province. While it served as Islamic State’s headquarters, al-Raqqa played a key role from which the group directed, encouraged and inspired violence elsewhere in Iraq and Syria, as well as across the globe; including in Australia. Foreign fighters, including Australians, have travelled to Syria to fight with Islamic State, including to al-Raqqa Province.

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Group’s engagement in hostile activities within or from the declared area

Since the liberation of al-Raqqa city from Islamic State on 20 October 2017, we have no information to indicate the group has engaged in hostile activity within the geographical boundary of the al-Raqqa province declared area. Islamic State continues to engage in hostile activity elsewhere in Syria, as well as across the globe.

The overthrow by force or violence of the government of that or any other foreign country, or of a part of that or any other foreign country

Islamic State still controls parts of Syria. It seeks to supplant government control over official functions in areas under its control through brutal rule, including the use of force and violence. Islamic State imposed tight controls on communications in these areas and routinely executed people accused of spying or treachery.

Islamic State continues to engage in violence against the Syrian Regime, the Iraqi Government and other groups, including the use of force to claim or hold territory. Islamic State routinely conducted suicide operations against United States (US)-backed Kurdish and Arab forces in the fight for al-Raqqa.

Until its liberation, the city of al-Raqqa also played a key role as Islamic State’s headquarters from which it directed, encouraged and inspired violence elsewhere in Iraq and Syria, as well as across the globe.

The engagement, by that or any other group, in action that:

  • Falls within subsection 100.1(2) but does not fall within subsection 100.1(3); and
  • If engaged in Australia, would constitute a serious offence

Despite significant loss of territory and leadership attrition, Islamic State continues to conduct frequent attacks intended to cause death, serious physical harm and serious damage to property. Islamic State continues to engage in armed clashes, use improvised explosive devices and deploy suicide bombers across Iraq and Syria. This includes executions of soldiers, police, civilians and Islamic State defectors.

  • 3 August 2017: Islamic State claimed killing and wounding over 60 people in two suicide vehicle borne improvised explosive device attacks targeting the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in al-Raqqa1.
  • 2 August 2017: Islamic State fighters killed 11 SDF fighters in an attack near al-Masjid al-Qadim, al-Raqqa; and killed or wounded 19 SDF fighters in a tandem suicide operation on the edge of Hayy al-Mashlab, east al-Raqqa1.
  • 15 June 2017: Islamic State claimed a suicide attack targeting SDF in west al-Raqqa; killing nearly 40 people1.
  • 5 March 2016: Islamic State executed 132 prisoners in Mosul and 68 in al-Raqqa in order to reduce expenses.

Intimidating the public or a section of the public of that or any other foreign country

Until its liberation, the city of al-Raqqa was Islamic State’s headquarters and provided a base from which many of its operations were directed. Islamic State undertook numerous terrorist attacks against civilians, in Syria and elsewhere in the world. It also conducts executions, including beheadings, and publicises these activities, including through the dissemination of videos and magazines.

Outside al-Raqqa province, Islamic State continues to perpetrate mass casualty attacks in public places including marketplaces and cafes.

  • During October 2017; Islamic State executed and killed at least 128 people in the city of al-Qaryatayn, Syria.
  • As at August 2017: more than 3,000 Yazidis, mostly from Sinjar, Iraq have been killed by Islamic State—with more than half shot, beheaded or burnt alive—and approximately 6,800 taken for sex slaves or fighters. Islamic State fighters reportedly sold captives before leaving al-Raqqa.
  • 17 July 2016: Islamic State released footage of the beheading of two men in al-Raqqa who were accused of being spies for the US coalition.
  • 4 April 2016: Islamic State executed eight men in west al-Raqqa and crucified their bodies on electricity poles.
  • 3 January 2016: Islamic State ‘Wilayah Ar Raqqa’ media office released a video titled “They are the enemy, so beware of them” depicting the confessions of five alleged spies, followed by their execution by shooting.

Causing the death of, or bodily injury to, a person who:

  • Is the head of state of that or any other foreign country; or
  • Holds, or performs any of the duties of, a public office of that or any other foreign country (or of a part of that or any other foreign country

Within Iraq and Syria, Islamic State focuses its attacks against Iraqi and Syrian military, paramilitary and security force targets—as well as soft targets such as civilians.

  • 25 August 2017: Islamic State fighters killed at least 34 Syrian Regime troops and seized their vehicles in a counterattack in east al-Raqqa province.
  • 22 December 2016: Islamic State published a video showing two Turkish soldiers being burned alive while chained. The video reprimands Turkey for its involvement in the war in Syria.
  • 3 February 2015: Islamic State published a video showing a Jordanian pilot being burned alive while locked in a cage. The pilot was captured when his plane crashed near al-Raqqa during a mission against Islamic State in December 2014.

Unlawfully destroying or damaging any real or personal property belonging to the government of that or any other foreign country (or of a part of that or any other foreign country)

Islamic State continues to destroy property, including through its military campaign. This includes property which belongs to the government in areas that it held. Islamic State has on many occasions destroyed entire areas that it has vacated due to military losses. Until its liberation, the city of al-Raqqa played a key role as Islamic State’s headquarters from which it directed, encouraged and inspired violence elsewhere in Iraq and Syria, including the destruction of many historical and religious sites.

  • 21 June 2017: Islamic State destroyed the grand al-Nuri Mosque and the leaning al-Hadba minaret in Mosul.
  • 30 May 2017: Islamic State blew up the main water tank in Mansoura, a town in western al-Raqqa.
  • 21 January 2017: the Syrian antiques chief said that Islamic State militants destroyed the Tetrapylon monument and the façade of its Roman Theatre in Palmyra, Syria between 26 December 2016 and 10 January 2017.

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Threats to Australian interests

Islamic State’s coordinated and effective propaganda campaign has exposed susceptible Australians to an extremist ideology and influenced some toward radicalisation. As many as 100 Australians are currently in Iraq and Syria fighting with or supporting Islamist extremist groups—the majority are with Islamic State. Australians fighting with Islamic State have been involved in acts of violence including suicide bombings and holding the decapitated head of a Syrian soldier following Islamic State beheadings; incidents subsequently used in Islamic State’s propaganda campaign.

Islamic State continues to openly call for attacks against Australia and its interests, both because of Australia’s support to military operations against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and because of the group’s anti-Western ideology. Islamic State promotes its opposition to Australia through propaganda material, foreign fighter videos and speeches by senior leadership.

  • 7 August 2017: in the 2nd episode of its "Inside the Caliphate" series, the Islamic State featured an Australian fighter in al-Raqqa calling on Muslims among his fellow countrymen to either, travel to and wage jihad in the city of Marawi, Philippines, or stay in Australia and kill "disbelievers".

Islamic State has promoted terrorist attacks in Australia and has openly praised terrorist incidents in Australia, including the following:

  • 2 October 2015: shooting of an unarmed police civilian, outside the New South Wales Police Force headquarters in Parramatta, NSW
  • 15–16 December 2014: siege at Martin Place, Sydney
  • 23 September 2014: stabbing of two counter terrorism police officers in Victoria.

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Maps of the declared area

The al-Raqqa province is the area outlined as ‘al Raqqa’ in the maps below. Click for full size image.

Syrian Provience map Syrian Provience map

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Conclusion

On the basis of the information available, since the liberation of al-Raqqa city from Islamic State on 20 October 2017, ASIO is unable to confirm the group has engaged in hostile activity within the geographical boundary of the al-Raqqa province declared area.

This assessment is corroborated by information from reliable and credible intelligence sources.


1Islamic State has claimed these attacks against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Islamic State often refers to both the PKK and the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) as the PKK in Syria. The YPG is the most important component of the United States-backed SDF which led the liberation of al-Raqqa city from the Islamic State. Islamic State’s claim of attacks against the PKK in their defence of al-Raqqa city describes attacks against the YPG as part of the US-backed SDF.

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