Social media antics: Convicted Sydney terrorist Khaled Sharrouf, who is reportedly in Iraq with his wife and children.
As the Prime Minister laid out the case this week for his suite of new counter-terrorism measures, it was hardly surprising that he cited first the sickening images that had been posted on social media.
It was, he said, ''truly shocking''. ''Australians born and bred doing absolutely horrific things.''
Posing grinning maniacally holding severed heads, or standing over a row of bodies of executed Iraqi police, the appalling antics of Sydneysiders Mohamed Elomar and Khaled Sharrouf on social media have become the embodiment of the latest terrorist threat.
A photo from his Twitter account.
Yet they are just two of thousands of young men from all around the world tweeting their jihad, using a powerful and cheap platform to deliver propaganda and attract recruits.
As well as gruesome ''selfies'', Islamists post real time updates of major battles.
Young western jihadis boast of a ''five-star jihad'', uploading pictures of delicious food or playing video games in captured luxury villas. Those killed are eulogised as martyrs.
The media arm of Islamic State produces high definition videos tailored to potential recruits from different nations and funnelled through the social media accounts of its supporters.
It is not the first time jihadists have used the internet to sell their message – Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda was active online – but, says terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman, social media is is ''making jihad accessible and comprehensible on a uniquely intimate and personal basis''. ''A new generation of celebrity fighters is also being created, heralded and extolled in a familiar vernacular to Facebook friends and Twitter followers throughout the world.''
Counter-terrorism officials are still grappling with its impact and import, but as a recruitment tool, social media seems to be working. The numbers of foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq already vastly exceeds those who went to Afghanistan.
Some 10,000 foreign fighters have heeded the call by Islamic State (formerly ISIL and ISIS) and other militant groups creating what they claim is a long prophesied pan-national caliphate across Syria and Iraq.
The countries are easier to reach than Afghanistan, and there are more opportunities to train to fight and kill.
The conflicts themselves are a source of global instability and misery, but counter-intelligence agencies worry that foreigners – including 60 Australians believed to be actively in combat – will be instructed to return home and launch attacks on their homeland.
The fear for the safety of Australians extends to Indonesia, where more than 100 Australians have died in terrorist attacks.
Indonesians have also flocked to Syria, raising concerns the largely dormant terrorist threat in Australia’s near neighbour is being revived.
''We have no information to suggest there’s anything remotely approaching attack planning here in Australia,'' one counter-terrorism source said.
''But it would be naive to think we weren’t a target. It would be naive to think there’s not going to be something planned at some stage here.''
The new counter-terrorism laws are the first drafted in anticipation of a terrorist act. That fact alone, and the raw emotions in the Islamic community over perceived scapegoating, meant they needed to be handled carefully.
But the reception this week has been sharply hostile.
Many of the reforms are measured – redefining terrorism in the statutes; revamping the Foreign Incursions and Recruitment Act; greater passport controls; and enabling evidence collected overseas to be admissible in courts are sensible and incremental adjustments.
But the proposal to store for two years metadata such as the time and location of phone calls and emails, as well as the location of internet servers and social media activity, has foundered, thanks largely to the inept advocacy of George Brandis.
The Attorney-General wrongly suggested that authorities would keep a record of the websites Australians visited. It was left to Minister for Communication Malcolm Turnbull, who was not consulted on this week’s announcement, to clean up the mess.
Moreover, while Abbott’s announcement that he had shelved plans to soften hate speech laws was designed to promote national unity, its main target, Australia’s Muslim community, was unimpressed.
Islamic leaders refused to attend the Australian Federal Police’s Eid dinner to celebrate the end of Ramadan on Thursday, citing the ''deplorable'' laws, which were ''widely perceived to target Muslims''.
The new regime that puts the onus on Australians to show good cause why they have visited countries designated ''no-go zones'' has especially rankled,
Samier Dandan from the Lebanese Muslim Association said that many in the Islamic community were upset by the apparent double standard over the treatment of fighters going to Syria and Iraq, and those fighting for the Israeli Defence Force.
''People are very angry about Gaza,'' he said. ''What you are seeing there is two generations of Gaza who will be mentally damaged because they are being held in a prison and shelled. Hamas is attacking soldiers, the IDF is pinpointing civilians. Why isn't the government saying anything about this?
''If the Israelis are fighting in the occupied territories, then that's illegal. [Australian-Israelis] should not be allowed to fight in these circumstances. It is in violation of international law.''
Senator Brandis’ reference to East Jerusalem as the ''disputed territories'' rather than the ''occupied territories'' – as they are correctly known under UN resolutions – earlier this year has confirmed for many Muslims that the federal government is too pro-Israel.
The Gaza conflict has fed the flame of discontent and Islamic radicalism for generations. Syria and Iraq provide militants with a new theatre to impose their will.
And now it is all being disseminated on social media. Social networking platforms, Hoffman says, are ''transforming terrorism'', ''fuelling and sustaining these struggles to a new extent''.
Or, as one counter-terrorism source put it: ''It’s definitely that under 25-year-old group they are targeting. Youth in their teens, kids becoming adults….
''They are regenerating themselves every year.''