The chief of Australia’s domestic spy agency, Duncan Lewis, has clarified his controversial remarks that there is no link between refugees and terrorism.
Mr Lewis has faced criticism from conservative circles after debunking such a link during questioning by One Nation’s Pauline Hanson at a Senate Estimates hearing last week.
While Mr Lewis sought to “give context” to his remark on Wednesday, he also defended his stance.
“I’ve not said there are no terrorists who…have not been refugees or not been the sons and daughters of refugees born in this country,” he told ABC radio.
“The reason why they are terrorists is not because they are refugees but because of the violent, extremist interpretation of Sunni Islam that they have adopted.”
Mr Lewis said Australia’s refugee program was not the source of domestic terrorism, nor were they statistically more susceptible to terrorism.
“We have had tens of thousands of refugees come to Australia over the last decade or so and a very few of them have become subjects for interest for ASIO and have been involved in terrorism planning,” he said.
However, the majority of the thwarted terrorist attacks in Australia were planned by those with a radical interpretation of Sunni Islam, the ASIO boss said.
“In all of those cases they were not terrorists because they were refugees. They were terrorists because of this warped violent extremist interpretation of Sunni Islam,” Mr Lewis said.
Most of those who were radicalised became so as a result of online viewing, he said.
“They are getting online in their lounge rooms, in their bedrooms at a very young age and absorbing some of this very objectionable and very brutal material and all of this is being published by sources internationally,” Mr Lewis said.
“That is the material that is driving them towards radicalisation – not because they are refugees.”
But the support of the Muslim community was critical to ASIO’s work, Mr Lewis added.
“I’m not here to vilify the Islamic community – I’m here to keep the Australian community safe,” he said.
The clarification came after Senator Hanson vowed she would try to bring Mr Lewis back to another hearing to explain his comments.
Senator Hanson called Mr Lewis “weak” over his response debunking the links.
“I was just absolutely gobsmacked with the response I got from him, it’s not what the Australian people want to hear,” she told 2GB radio on Tuesday.
“I’m sick of these people in these positions who are not doing their job.
“People are constantly ringing up my office, pulling me up in the streets because they’re in fear. They want some answers.”
Senator Pauline Hanson on @2GB873 with @StevePriceMedia and @theboltreport. #auspol长沙桑拿,长沙SPA,/B2SRdfcrbX
— Pauline Hanson (@PaulineHansonOz) May 31, 2017
Former prime minister Tony Abbott has also weighed in, saying ASIO must command the confidence of the community, adding there was a strain of “death to the infidel” within Islam.
“We keep tiptoeing around this subject and the problem is that nearly all of the terrorist incidents are associated with people yelling out ‘Allahu Akbar’ as they kill,” he said.