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Number of Australian jihadists serving with terrorists in Iraq and Syria prompts security rethink

The Abbott Government is considering new measures to deal with Australians serving with terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq.

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It is understood there are about 150 Australians and dual nationals fighting overseas, making the nation the highest foreign per-capita contributor to the conflicts.

The potential threat of “home-grown” terrorists has prompted Prime Minister Tony Abbott to announce the Government will do whatever it can to protect Australian citizens from extremists returning to the country.

“The best thing we can do for Australians at home is to ensure that jihadis do not come back to this country,” he said.

 

“We will do everything we humanly can to stop jihadist terrorists coming into this country and if they do return to this country, we will do everything we reasonably can to ensure that they are not moving amongst the Australian community.

“We will ensure we stop the jihadists as well because the last thing we want is people who have been radicalised and militarised by experience with these Al Qaeda offshoots in the Middle East returning to create mischief here in Australia.”

Coalition sources have told AM that security agencies need greater capacity to track potential “home-grown” jihadists and their allies.

 

Senior ministers were “deeply disturbed” by the news convicted Australian terrorist Khaled Sharrouf is fighting for militant group ISIS in Iraq, after leaving the country on his brother’s passport.

Speaking in Question Time, Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop said Australians were taking on “leadership roles” in radicalising militants.

“The Government is gravely concerned by the fact that Australian citizens are heading to Iraq and Syria not only to fight but to take leadership roles in radicalising others in these conflicts,” she said.

“This is one of the most disturbing developments in our domestic security in quite some time.

“There’s a real danger that these extremists also come back home as trained terrorists and pose a threat to our security.”

The Government has been reviewing border controls and considering giving spy agencies greater access to computer traffic information, as part of a whole-of-government plan to improve national security and ensure jihadists can be convicted.

“The Government will take whatever measures are reasonably necessary to ensure the community is protected,” a spokeswoman for the Prime Minister said.

“We will soberly consider the best approach and any measures will be taken through the Parliament as required.”

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison says border security officers are on high alert.

“We are monitoring this very closely all around the country whether at sea ports or airports,” he said.

“It is a crime to fight with terrorist organisations and this [ISIS] is a listed terrorist organisation.”

Under consideration is a controversial measure of forcing telecommunications companies to retain customer data for up to two years.

But public outcry over the retention of mobile phone data saw action on the recommendations shelved.

Tougher security measures were also considered by Parliament’s intelligence committee. It made 43 recommendations in a report tabled almost a year ago.

The Coalition will also look at what it can do to ensure the Government has the power to prosecute returning militants in Australian courts.

Labor will consider Government’s proposals: Shorten

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten says Labor will consider any proposals put forward by the Government.

“Security agencies should be given appropriate powers with one caveat: that there’s appropriate oversight,” he said.

“As a country, I believe we are smart enough to improve our national security and ensure the rights of individual citizens aren’t trampled.

“If you are a young Australian who thinks that somehow you are pursuing some … misguided definition of faith by engaging in the sort of medieval [barbarianism] that we’re seeing in parts of Iraq, if you leave Australia, I don’t expect you can reasonably expect to be welcomed home.”

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam says he is concerned the move might be a distraction, adding that he is disappointed the Prime Minister mentioned asylum seekers and terrorist groups in the same sentence.

“If the Government’s messaging tactics today are to try and persuade people that refugees fleeing violence are actually terrorists … as political messaging tactics go, it’s pretty grubby,” he said.

“If there’s a legitimate security threat, that doesn’t necessarily mean that any rush to law reform is actually going to make people safer.

“That’s what governments of both political persuasions have done over and over again. In an attempt to look strong, you toughen up security laws that have actually no relevance whatsoever to the very real task of protecting Australians from political violence.”

The Australian National Imams Council says it would welcome tougher security measures to deal with Australians fighting overseas.

The council’s Sheikh Mohamadu Saleem says any measures to improve national safety is a priority, but he says the Government should consult with community leaders

“There may be some concerns when the Government is taking certain measures that could probably impact on day-to-day lives of law abiding citizens of this country, definitely there will be concerns and that can be dealt with through community consultation,” he said.

The issue of home-grown jihadists was raised by the United States during the Prime Minister’s recent trip to Washington.

 

Western governments around the world are concerned what will happen when trained, radical fighters return to their home countries.

Earlier this month two men identifying themselves as Australians were featured in a recruitment video released by insurgents waging war in Iraq and Syria.

The men were urging others to join the fight.

The slick 13-minute video posted online by ISIS, titled There Is No Life Without Jihad, encourages viewers to “respond to Allah”.

Abu Yahya ash Shami, who is understood to be from Sydney, features in the video and may have died soon after the recording.

The second man identifed as an Australian in the video now goes by the jihadi name Abu Nour al-Iraqi, a possible sign he went off to war in Iraq.

Iraq conflict in maps

Just two years after the withdrawal of US troops, Iraq has again been plunged into sectarian-fuelled violence and chaos.

Terrorist group ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) has routed the Iraqi army in the north of the country and seized the country’s second largest city.

The country, which was invaded by a coalition led by the US in 2003, has been riven along religious and ethnic lines for the past decade and faces an uncertain future.

At the heart of the conflict is distrust between the two branches of Islam in the country – Sunni and Shia – a divide replicated throughout the Middle East.

News Online explores the crisis facing the country.

Just two years after the withdrawal of US troops, Iraq has again been plunged into sectarian-fuelled violence and chaos.

Terrorist group ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) has routed the Iraqi army in the north of the country and seized the country’s second largest city.

The country, which was invaded by a coalition led by the US in 2003, has been riven along religious and ethnic lines for the past decade and faces an uncertain future.

At the heart of the conflict is distrust between the two branches of Islam in the country – Sunni and Shia – a divide replicated throughout the Middle East.

News Online explores the crisis facing the country.

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