, SYDNEY, Aug 6 – Australia said on Thursday that it was concerned about Somali youths turning to radical Islam as migrants from the war-torn African nation expressed shock at the unearthing of an alleged suicide plot.
Community leaders said they feared Australia’s entire Somali population would be branded troublemakers after five Somali and Lebanese-origin men were charged with planning an armed raid on a Sydney military base.
"It is not right that all people who come from Africa should suffer for the actions of a few," said Omar Farah, a Somali social worker in inner-city Melbourne.
Hundreds of police were involved in dawn raids on Tuesday which they say foiled an attack which was just weeks away and would have been the worst seen in Australia.
Attorney-General Robert McClelland said police were working to stop Somali youths, many of whom grew up in refugee camps and arrived without their families, being lured into extremism.
"The evidence was that a lot of Somali youths come here literally without families they have no support networks around them and no role models," McClelland told public broadcaster ABC.
"The police have a very sophisticated programme to look at what they can do to build some support structures around those young men."
Wissam Mahmoud Fattal, Saney Aweys, Yacqub Khayre, Abdirahman Ahmed and Nayef El Sayed have appeared in court charged over the Sydney attack and are also accused of links to Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-inspired Shebab insurgents.
Prominent members of the tight-knit Somali community say it is reeling after the arrests and is hoping not to experience a backlash from other Australians.
"The charges are against an individual and not against our whole community," Farah said.
"If the evidence is there that someone has broken Australian law, then that person rightly should face the consequences."
Australia has a tiny Somali population — just 4,310 according to the 2006 census — with two-thirds arriving in the past decade as their homeland descended into lawlessness and clan warfare.
Large swathes of Somalia are controlled by the hardline Shebab, which stepped up its anti-government offensive in May.
Mohamed Baaruud, spokesman for the Somali Advocacy Action Group, said many in the community had been scarred by the violence in their homeland.
"Our community came to Australia about 17 years ago when the civil war started in Somalia," he told Melbourne’s Herald Sun newspaper.
"It took us a long time to recover from the trauma that we have experienced in our country of origin and start a new life here in Australia."
The census showed that more than 60 percent of Australian Somalis live in the southern state of Victoria, where the counter-terrorism raids took place.
It also showed that the Somali population was significantly younger than the Australian average of 37, with lower educational qualifications and unemployment levels six times the national rate.
As a result, income levels among Somalis — the vast majority of whom are Muslim — were two-thirds lower than the Australian average.
Victoria state assistant police commissioner Stephen Fontana, who met community leaders on Wednesday, appealed for the public not to unfairly label Somalis.
"We’re asking the Australian community to give a fair go to the Muslim community and the Somalis," he said after the meeting.