NATIONAL AFFAIRS 150 Australian jihadis pose terror threat if they return home: Julie Bishop

ABOUT 150 Australians are, or have been, fighting with Arab insurgents & Muslim Extremests in Syria and Iraq and pose a security threat if they return home, says Julie Bishop.


The Foreign Minister’s warning came amid evidence convicted terrorist Khaled Sharrouf, who fled Australia earlier this year, has joined the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham’s uprising in northern Iraq.

As ISIS militants battle with Iraqi government troops, The Australian today revealed that Sharrouf — who left for Syria using his brother’s passport — was thought to be among the thousands of ISIS fighters swarming threatening Baghdad.

Intelligence agencies told Ms Bishop this morning that the cohort of about 150 Australian fighters “in Syria and beyond” initially supported “more moderate opposition groups” but are increasingly turning to “more extreme” groups such as ISIS.

“These are brutal people (in ISIS). The executions and the killings and their boasting of it on social media makes this a particularly virulent form of terrorism,” Ms Bishop told ABC Radio after the briefing.

“These people are so extreme that al-Qa’ida is even distancing itself from them.

“I had an intelligence briefing from our agencies this morning and our best estimate is that there are about 150 Australians … who have been or are still fighting with opposition groups in Syria and beyond.”

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Ms Bishop said she had cancelled numerous Australian passports belonging to suspected extremists and Australian intelligence agencies were working with regional partners to counter the threat posed by the fighters’ return.

“We are concerned that Australians are working with (these militants), becoming radicalised, learning the terrorist trade, and if they come back to Australia of course it poses a security threat and we’re doing what we can to identify them.”

Ms Bishop said it was an offence under Australian law to take part on either side of the Iraqi conflict, or support a listed terrorist organisation such as ISIS, with penalties of up to 25 years’ jail.

Tony Abbott said he was making preparations to ensure the safety of Australian personnel in Baghdad, should the Iraqi capital be attacked.

“It is a dangerous and difficult situation. You have a terrorist army consolidating its hold over a large swath of Iraq and Syria with the intention presumably of creating a terrorist state with dangerous and unpredictable consequences for the region and for the wider world,” Mr Abbott said.

“We are redoubling our vigilance at our borders to try to ensure that jihadists do not gain access to our country or are monitored if they have the right of access to this country.”

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said he was able to cancel the visas of permanent residents suspected of fighting overseas, just as he cancelled the visa of Rebels Motorcycle Club president Alex “The Maltese Falcon” Vella last week.

“I’m not going to comment on any specific cases for obvious reasons, but Australians should know this — they’ve seen my decision in relation to another matter, Mr Vella, and they know what I do on character grounds more generally; so they’ll know I will act when I need to act, every time,” he told ABC TV.

Labor’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek described returning Australian fighters as a “very serious risk’’, and says she supports government efforts to stop the threat.

Overseas fighters returned well trained, radicalised, and with a “sick sort of street cred’’, she said.

“That allows them to convince other impressionable young people that perhaps going to fight is a good idea, or perhaps committing crimes here in Australia might be a good idea,’’ she said.

Ms Bishop, who has announced $5 million aid for refugees fleeing ISIS’s advance, conceded the Western and Iranian-backed government of Shia prime minister Nouri al-Maliki was “not a good” administration.

“It is the only government in place in Iraq at present. It’s not a good one and the problems between the Sunnis and the Shias are exacerbated by his manner of excluding them from the government.

“He’s now calling for national unity — that’s a start — we need to see a political solution because a military solution could be catastrophic.”

In the wake of authorities failing to stop Sharrouf from leaving Australia, the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor, Bret Walker SC, said there should be reporting requirements for those convicted of terror offences, and an associated national database established.

As The Australian reported in May, Sharrouf travelled to Syria with fellow Australian Mohamed Elomar, who is also believed to be fighting with ISIS. Elomar is the nephew of Mohamed Elomar, one of the ringleader’s of the 2005 Pendennis conspiracy. Sharrouf and Elomar Sr were convicted in the Pendennis trial. Sharrouf served three years and 11 months in jail for his role in the conspiracy, which saw 18 people convicted over a plot to attack targets in Sydney and Melbourne.

Before fleeing Australia, Sharrouf was facing charges relating to alleged weapons offences committed last year. His friends and family denied any knowledge of him fighting with ISIS, and claimed a Facebook account detailing Sharrouf’s activities in Iraq was a fake.

Additional Reporting: Paul Maley and Mark Schliebs

Henry Sapiecha

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