Wednesday marks the 25th anniversary of the start of Australia’s contribution to peacekeeping operations in Somalia amid civil war and famine.
The haunting eyes and the jutting ribs of Somalian children are among the most vivid memories from Paul von Kurtz’s time in Somalia.
Mr Von Kurtz, from Townsville, was a platoon sergeant in the Army’s first battalion (1RAR) and was among the first to touch down in the lawless capital Mogadishu.
“We were all very green.. it was very much an eye-opener,” he told AAP.
Among their duties, Australian troops went on nine-day patrols to protect the convoys of aid groups distributing food.
“What we were doing was having a great effect,” he said.
“Towards the end, the kids were putting a bit more meat back on their bones and you saw them playing and there were smiles back on their faces.”
Mr von Kurtz served in Somalia for about five months and laments it wasn’t longer because the Australian troops were making a significant difference.
The deployment was physically challenging.
Mr von Kurtz weighed 75kg at the start but a lack of fresh food meant his weight dropped to 52kg by the time he left.
The Australian Defence Force learned important lessons about ensuring soldiers have adequate food which it’s implemented on deployments since then.
Mr von Kurtz recalled it had been an uphill battle for Australians to build trust with Somalians because in the past the country had experienced a lot of foreign interference from the Italians, British, Russians and Americans.
There were some initial rock-throwing incidents and when the Australians arrived at Baidoa they were shot at on the first night, he said.
Australian Federal Police superintendent Bill Kirk also served in Somalia on a secondment with the United Nations and helped to restore the rule of law.
Mr Kirk said it was very difficult to operate on the ground and personnel could only leave compounds with bodyguards.
“You would think, why are we here? They don’t even like us,” he told AAP.
He recalled shark nets being put up at the beach in Mogadishu because some UN peacekeepers had been attacked while swimming.
“I thought sharks were the least of the worries,” Mr Kirk said.
The Somalian conflict received the Hollywood treatment in the 2001 film Black Hawk Down which was based on a true story. But that incident with the US special forces happened before the Australians arrived.
More than 1500 Australian defence personnel served in Somalia from 1992-94, four were injured and there was one death, Lance Corporal Shannon McAliney.
The Australian navy sent HMAS Tobruk and HMAS Jervis Bay to Somalia and the air force conducted regular resupply missions and personnel served as air traffic controllers at the airport.
Federal Labor frontbencher Mike Kelly and NSW Governor David Hurley both had military deployments to Somalia.
My Australia: From washing dishes to Qantas executive
‘My Australia’ is a special SBS News series exploring cultural heritage and identity, and asking what it means to be Australian in 2018.
Jamila Gordon is a long way from the small village where she was born. She fled Somalia’s civil war and came alone to Australia as a young refugee. She couldn’t speak a word of English.
But that didn’t stop her from becoming a top tech executive for companies including Qantas.
“The village (where I was born) was very desolate, dusty, we had water in the wells,” Ms Gordon told SBS News.
“My mother was pregnant every year, or she had a baby … In the end, she had 16 children.”
Her family moved to Mogadishu to avoid a drought. But just before the civil war broke out they were separated. Ms Gordon was sent to live with distant relatives in Kenya.
“Through my friends in Kenya, I met an Australian backpacker. It was his second day in Kenya and we became friends and he sponsored me to Australia,” she said.
At 18 years old, Jamila found herself in Sydney alone and unable to speak the language.
She quickly learned English at TAFE and got a job washing dishes, earning five dollars an hour. She went to university in Melbourne to study accounting, before taking an IT elective and falling in love with it.
She says IT had some surprising similarities to her first school in Somalia.
“The process I used to memorise the Koran in the village where I was born, was exactly the same as the process of software programming that I used when I was at Latrobe University,” Ms Gordon said.
After university she got a job as a software programmer and climbed her way up the ladder, working in Europe for major companies including IBM. She later returned to Australia to become chief information officer at Qantas.
She is currently based in Sydney and works with smaller tech start-ups, helping them get off the ground.
Rod Bishop CEO of Jayride, a start-up marketplace for transport hire, says working with Ms Gordon has been a perfect fit.
“There’s really not a lot of growth-focused technology people operating at an extremely high level in Australia. So it was an absolute pleasure and we saw eye to eye straight away,” Mr Bishop said.
Former professional colleague David Thodey, who is the chairman of the board at CSRIO, says Jamila brings a unique approach to her work.
“She’s always had a vision for what she wanted to do, but a great determination and incredible will and drive to get the job done.”
Woman charged with supporting terrorism linked to terror cell that carried out attack in Kenya
THE young Adelaide woman charged with supporting terrorism would be in a war zone right now as a member of Islamic State had she not been arrested, authorities claim.
Federal prosecutors have further claimed they hold “grave fears” that, if not kept in custody, the woman will “escalate” from supporting terrorism to carrying out a real-world attack.
On Friday, the Adelaide Magistrates Court agreed and refused to release the woman on bail, saying she posed “a real risk” of undertaking “politically motivated violence” if freed.
Documents sighted by The Advertiser outline the Australian Federal Police’s case against the student, who was arrested last month.
They assert the woman, whose identity is suppressed, became radicalised prior to an IS attack in Mombasa on September 11, 2016 and was “mentored” by its instigators — all of whom were women.
They further assert she swore allegiance to IS in October last year, frequented the group’s messageboards and downloaded its propaganda.
She allegedly tried to leave Adelaide for Turkey in June last year, on a one-way ticket, but was stopped at Adelaide Airport due to surveillance of her activities.
All of those activities, they allege, occurred without the knowledge of her family, friends or community who were kept in the dark by her “superior ability” to disguise her intentions.
In the documents, the AFP assert that incident did nothing to deter the woman’s activities as, just before her arrest, she was recorded in her home singing songs praising the group and its ideals.
“We hold grave concerns that her activities will escalate from online to an act of (terrorism) in the real world,” the papers assert.
“The only reason she is not now in IS territory as a member of IS is that police prevented her from travelling in June 2016.”
The woman, 22, of Somali origin, was arrested at her western suburbs TAFE campus last month and faces a maximum penalty of 10 years’ jail.
Federal and state police alleged she had been under surveillance since she sought to fly overseas in July last year.
They further alleged she “intentionally was a member” of an organisation, “namely Islamic State, knowing that organisation was a terrorist organisation”, between May 23 last year and May 23 this year.
Police denied her arrest was brought on by last month’s Manchester terror attack, saying her arrest had been planned for some time.
On Friday morning, prosecutors filed two affidavits and a summary of their case with the court, ahead of the woman’s application for release on home detention bail.
Those documents allege the woman came to the attention of the AFP sometime prior to her attempt to leave Australia on July 14 last year.
They allege she “concealed her plans” from her parents and “took her passport without her mother’s knowledge”.
It is further alleged that, prior to her attempted departure, the woman engaged in “group chats” with three other people on a website “bannered with the IS flag”.
Prosecutors allege the woman “used encryption and other surveillance-avoidance techniques to disguise her activities and planning”.
Those skills, it is alleged, were taught to her by a group of IS loyalists that included a woman named Maimuna Hussein.
“(The woman) was being tutored by IS terrorists in Kenya who carried out a serious attack in Mombasa on September 11, 2016,” the papers allege.
They allege the Mombasa incident involved Maimuna and others using knives and petrol bombs in a surprise attack, and that the terrorists died as a result of their actions.
“Maimuna has an almost identical background (to the woman),” the papers allege.
She had no criminal history, was studying medicine at university and had made a previous attempt to join IS in Kenya in June 2015.
Prosecutors allege that, in the wake of the attack, the Adelaide woman “obtained and recited an oath of allegiance to the leader of IS” in October 2016.
“(She also) accessed extreme and violent pro-IS material and expressed her support for ‘Arab’ fighters in the Middle East,” the papers allege.
It is alleged that, between May 3 and 18 this year, the woman was recorded singing pro-IS songs — called “nasheeds” — in her home.
Their titles allegedly include “We are Muslim coming for you”, “He walked by night alone travelling to the land of Jihad”, “Soldiers of Allah”, “My eyes are calling me” and “Ya Illahi” — meaning “my God”.
Prosecutors allege another nasheed sung by the woman, called “Ghuraba”, is of particular concern.
“It is analogous to their ideology of feeling strange in this life compared to the better life in the Hereafter, which they claim to strive for,” the papers allege.
On Friday afternoon, Craig Caldicott, for the woman, said her youth, lack of prior offending and the “weakness” of the prosecution case warranted releasing her on bail.
Much of the case, he said, seemed based on the equivalent of “talking to people on Facebook” but conceded she might have “a little angst toward the AFP”.
He said none of the allegations had been tested, and much material would have to be translated from Arabic, Somali and Swiss-German before its “true context” was known.
Mr Caldicott said similar cases interstate had resulted in offenders receiving good behaviour bonds, creating a risk the woman would serve more time waiting for trial than if convicted.
“What concerns me is the delay (until trial) will be quite long,” he said.
“The likelihood is any trial — and there will be a trial, my instructions are she’s not guilty — will be not next year, but the year after.”
He said the woman’s community — about 40 of whom filled the public gallery — would support her, with two willing to put up $5000 cash guarantees.
Anne Barnett, prosecuting, said the woman knew she was under watch and yet continued her behaviour, so was unlikely to be deterred by bail conditions.
“Most of this offending occurred in her home while she was being a recluse … despite their being here today in support, she has not been a member of this community,” she said.
“She has been isolated and undertaking these activities clandestinely in the confines of her bedroom, unknown to the community and to her own family.
“When she went to the airport, her family was unaware — they thought she was at university.”
‘This is a lawless place’: Australia’s Somali community expresses concern for relatives in Libya
A Facebook video authenticated by the aid agency Amnesty International shows malnourished African captives – most of them thought to be Somalis – crammed into concrete cells.
Some are forced to contact family members and describe their unimaginable torture – other times it’s the captors, criminals who have seized control in lawless regions of Libya demanding money.
Aden Ibrahim, a leader in Melbourne’s Somali community, said the ransom is generally around US$8,000.
“This is a lawless place, so once the person has been called and if the person hasn’t paid the ransom money in time that person may be used as body parts, or worse maybe shot dead … basically mutilated,” Mr Ibrahim said.
Mr Ibrahim also has a confronting collection of photographs provided by Australian-based Somalis who have been contacted by captured relatives – or by the criminals themselves.
“They actually call you to tell you only few bones have been broken but the person’s still alive and if you don’t pay they’ll be finished,” he said.
But not even ransom payment guarantees release, and there is no single government for authorities to lobby in Libya.
Elaine Pearson is the director at the Sydney-based aid agency Human Rights Watch and says it’s time authorities and governments consider how they can intervene.
“There’s been a complete breakdown of law and order in the country. There’s no justice system to speak of so in that vacuum it’s allowed criminal groups to act with impunity,” Ms Pearson said.
Mr Ibrahim is urging all Australian Africans to warn relatives considering passage through Libya.
“They have to be a little bit more vigilant and instead of hearing their loved ones in a camp in Libya they should advise them before they go,” he said.