Mohamed Elomar stopped talking to his father two years before leaving Sydney for Syria, where he started posing on social media with the heads of soldiers who were on the wrong side of Islamic State’s fight.
“He was beautiful,” a “marvelous boy,” Mamdouh Elomar said of his 29-year-old son. At some point, things changed. “He said he didn’t want to work for me, and that’s it. Two years we never speak, because of our differences.”
What led Mohamed Elomar to abandon a life in Australia that included high-profile boxing bouts and a wife and children to become a suspected militant with Islamic State still has his father puzzled. “I don’t know where he picked it up from. I think from the people he was hanging around.”
The threat of a locally-sown Islamic militancy to a nation about 7,000 miles (11,000 kilometers) from the Syrian conflict was underscored by two incidents over the past week. Days after police conducted the country’s largest anti-terrorism raid in history, an 18-year-old “known terrorism suspect” stabbed two officers outside a Melbourne police station before being shot dead.
Waves of Middle Eastern migrants have seen Australia’s Muslim population surge 69 percent in a decade, with security experts warning that disaffected young men facing fewer job prospects on the fringes of major cities are susceptible to Islamic State propaganda. The teenager shot by police came to their attention after waving an Islamic State flag inside a shopping center.
“If you’re talking about the reasons for radicalization, you’re looking at unemployed, disenfranchised youth who feel marginalized from the community,” said Clarke Jones, a former national security adviser to the government and visiting fellow at the Australian National University in Canberra. “That’s the case whether it’s in the Philippines, Indonesia or Australia. The youths are finally being given a chance to feel like they belong to something.”
The number of Australians identifying themselves as Muslim rose from 281,600 in 2001 to 476,300 by 2011 — about 2.2 percent of the population. Some Islamic families cluster on the outskirts of cities such as Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane in traditionally working-class strongholds where manufacturing jobs are disappearing.