Jihad Transformed: The Australian Experience of Islamic State Terrorism and Extremism

Levi J. West

Nexus Report || September 19, 2022

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Executive Summary

Prior to 2014, Australia’s direct experience of jihadist terrorism had been limited, abstract, and remote. Australia had not experienced a jihadist terrorist attack within its borders, and only limited numbers of foreign fighters had departed for offshore conflicts. From 2014 to 2020, however, the country experienced a dramatic surge in jihadist-related activity, driven largely by the emergence of the Islamic State and its so-called caliphate. This report examines the transformative impact of the Islamic State’s emergence on Australian jihadism, and the counterterrorism arrangements that have been implemented in response. It finds that:

  • The most consequential manifestation of this transformation was the nine Islamic Stateinspired terrorist attacks, and substantial outflows of foreign fighters and attempted foreign fighters. Approximately 500 Australians attempted or succeeded in travelling to Syria and Iraq to participate in jihadist activity.
  • Informing this transformation were a number of individuals who shaped and influenced Australians’ perception of the Islamic State. These ‘Jihadi Influencers’, through their actions and the propaganda associated with them, pushed the Islamic State to the forefront of Australian national security and political discourse.
  • In response, successive governments implemented an array of innovative, effective, and at times controversial counterterrorism measures, which contributed to the prevention of further attacks.
  • Australia, much like comparable jurisdictions, has witnessed a substantial decrease in jihadist activity following the territorial demise of the Islamic State’s caliphate in Iraq and Syria. However, the country is also experiencing an equally transformative resurgence in extremist and terrorist activity by individuals and groups motivated by extreme right-wing ideologies. This additional transformation presents several new challenges, and Australia’s counterterrorism community is seeking to respond appropriately.


Levi J. West



About the Author

Levi J. West is the Director of Terrorism Studies at the Australian Graduate School of Policing and Security, Charles Sturt University, Canberra. He leads a comprehensive post-graduate terrorism studies program that primarily caters to law enforcement and national security professionals. 

View his full bio here. He tweets @levijwest