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Facing radicalization dilemma, Australia to build a prison just for jihadis

In this Dec. 15, 2014 file photo, a hostage runs to armed tactical response police officers for safety after she escaped from a cafe under siege at Martin Place in the central business district of Sydney, Australia. For a country of just 24 million that i
Associated Press
Radicalized Muslims have perpetrated a handful of lone wolf attacks in the country in recent years

A new high security jail to isolate Islamic extremists convicted of terrorism offences will be built in Sydney as Australia struggles to stem the further radicalization of Muslims within the prison system.

“We don’t want to see people already behind bars subject to radicalization,” Gladys Berejiklian, the premier of the state of New South Wales, was reported to have said as she announced the policy. “If you are going to engage in activity which is going to try and convince others and manipulate others to do so, you will be sorted out.”

Currently, around 33 men are locked up in New South Wales prisons for terrorist activity, according the government.

Those considered most dangerous have already been isolated within the notorious SuperMax prison in an attempt to stymie their radicalization of other inmates. The new facility would have space for 54 people and is hoped to be completed in 2018.

"We’re a government taking nothing to chance, we'll be making sure we continue to have the toughest position in the nation in relation to reducing and eliminating terrorism activity" Berejiklian, was quoted saying by the Reuters news agency.

The initiative has garnered the backing of Australia's hardline federal immigration minister, who called on other jurisdictions to follow suit.

The New South Wales government has previously proposed unprecedented laws that would allow unrepentant extremists to be imprisoned indefinitely, beyond the sentences they were handed after their convictions.

A government minister said the men would pose a severe threat if released into the community.

“It’s clear that they’re still holding strong radical beliefs and the likelihood would be for them to engage in other criminal activity or terrorist activity,’’ the minister in charge of prisons, Peter Severin told The Australian newspaper in April.

Australia has seen a handful of lone wolf inspired attacks since the rise of Islamic State in the Middle East, many targeting police.

Last week a man reportedly phoned a TV station and shouted “This is for IS. This is for al-Qaida,” after he killed a security guard and took a woman hostage in a beachside apartment in the southern city of Melbourne. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack but police cautioned that there was no immediate evidence that he had been radicalized or was in contact with the group.

The man was on parole for a string of offences and had previously been monitored by Australian security and intelligence services for playing a peripheral role in a plot to bomb an army base.

Australia faces a further jihadist headache from the return of foreign fighters from Syria and Iraq, after an estimated 100 citizens left to fight for IS and other groups during 2014-15.

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