Duncan Lewis, in answer to a question from One Nation leader Pauline Hanson during a Senate hearing last week that riled some conservative commentators, said he had “absolutely no evidence” of any link.
Today, the ASIO chief told ABC radio: “The refugee program is not the source of terrorism in Australia.”
Tens of thousands of refugees had come to Australia over the past decade or so and “a very few of them” had become subjects of interest to ASIO or being involved in terrorist planning.
“I’m not denying that,” Lewis said.
“I’ve not said that there are no terrorists who have not been refugees or not being the sons or daughters of refugees born in this country.”
The reason they were terrorists was down to the violent extremist interpretation of Sunni Islam that they adopted.
In the overwhelming majority of cases, their transition to radicalisation started with them absorbing at a very young age “very objectionable and brutal” material online produced overseas.
“It’s not because they were refugees,” Lewis said.
But he conceded 11 of the 12 thwarted terror incidents in Australia since December 2014 involved Muslims.
Lewis said he had no intention of being contemptuous – as some commentators have suggested – of Hanson.
“The point I was making was we need to stick to the facts with this particular argument,” he said.
Attorney-General George Brandis is standing by Lewis, arguing the ASIO chief was asked about Middle Eastern refugees coming to Australia and bringing the threat of terrorism.
“The point he made is that Australia’s refugee program is not the source of the terrorism problem,” he told The Australian.
Labor is also supporting Lewis, saying he had “called it as it is”.
“He’s making what is absolutely apparent clear,” opposition defence spokesman Richard Marles told Sky News.
“Radical Islam is the driver in respect of terrorism that we have seen – that’s where people need to focus.”
Marles said some people were seeking to twist facts.
“And that’s what’s going on here, to demonise refugees, to put them in the frame on this issue, I think is an absolute disgrace.”
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