Terror trio asks to come home
Muslim who tried to join Islamic State: “there’s no life, no life without Jihad”
At least three Australians suspected of fighting with terrorist groups in Syria are in secret negotiations with the government to flee the war zone and come back home.
However the talks have stalled, amid concerns from the fighters over what punishment they would face in Australia and fears by authorities that they may pose a terror risk here.
One member of Islamic State, a former health worker from Victoria, has told Australian authorities he wants to come home from Syria to tell would-be jihadists why they should not join the terror group.
The man, who calls himself Abu Ibrahim, told US television network CBS in an interview earlier this year: “A lot of people when they come they have a lot of enthusiasm about what they’ve seen online, what they’ve seen on YouTube. They see it as something a lot grander than what the reality is — it’s not all military parades or victories.”
The man’s Australian lawyer, Rob Stary, said yesterday his client was seeking to return to Australia but authorities were resisting his return.
The Australian understands that at least two Islamic State members and one member of Syrian terror group Jabhat al-Nusra have secretly approached Australian authorities asking to return. All three men have been in Syria for at least two years and are believed by authorities to have fought on behalf of the terror groups. One of them wanted to bring home his wife whom he met while fighting in Syria and their children.
The approaches to the Australian government have been made via intermediaries or family members over the past six months. One was made to the Australian embassy in Ankara, Turkey, another to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra and the third to the Australian Federal Police.
A Victorian suspected of fighting with Islamic State in Syria wants to return to Australia so he can tell would-be jihadists why they shouldn’t join the terror group. Should he be let back in?
In each case, lawyers acting for the men have tried to gauge what penalties, or jail terms, their clients would face if they returned to Australia.
Each returnee could face more than a decade in prison if found to have fought with a proscribed terror group or to have been in areas of Syria and Iraq banned under new terror laws.
Authorities are reluctant to reissue passports to allow the men to return home unless they are confident that their rejection of Islamic State is genuine and that they would not pose a terror risk upon their return.
A number of European countries have had to contend with disillusioned foreign fighters seeking to return to their home countries after fighting with Islamic State, but this is the first such occasion Australia has been confronted with the problem.
Islamic State and Jabhat al Nusra have long harboured a desire to attack the West and counter-terrorism authorities remain concerned at the possibility that the men’s desire to return to Australia may be a ruse aimed at facilitating a domestic attack.
Mr Stary said his client admitted he had made a mistake and wanted to play a part in persuading would-be Australian jihadists not to join terror groups.
“If the Australian government is going to embrace de-radicalisation, it has to embrace it at all levels,” Mr Stary told The Australian yesterday.
“This includes those who know they may be charged for what they have done but who now want to renounce these groups and be co-operative.”
Abu Ibrahim, a convert to Islam, admitted to CBS that he was a member of Islamic State for six months although he is believed to have told Australian authorities that he was only a medic with the group. The Australian has chosen not to use his real name. It is believed he joined al-Nusra initially after he worked in a camp run by the group in Syria.
He told CBS he opposed the group executing Westerners but that he joined Islamic State because he wanted to live under strict sharia.
In December he witnessed a couple being stoned to death for adultery.
“It was done publicly,” Ibrahim said. “There were many hundreds of people there who observed. While seeing someone die is not something anyone would probably want to see, having the actual sharia established is what many Muslims look forward to. It’s harsh, it’s real but it’s the sharia.”
Ibrahim, who has escaped Islamic State and is believed to be in Turkey, said he left because he missed his wife and young children, who are still in Australia, and he didn’t agree with what the terror group was doing.
“My main reason for leaving was that I felt that I wasn’t doing what I had initially come for and that’s to help in a humanitarian sense the people of Syria,” he said.
“It had become something else. So, therefore, no longer justified me being away from my family.”
About 30 Australians have returned from fighting in Syria but so far these have not been members of Islamic State or al-Nusra, but rather anti-Assad fighters who travelled to that country with the specific aim of toppling the dictator.
Tony Abbott said yesterday those who sought to return from fighting with extremist groups would face jail when they came home. “Do not go — that’s my message and if you do go and you do try to come back, as far as I’m concerned you will be arrested, you will be prosecuted and you will be jailed because there is no place in our society for people who have been radicalised and brutalised by participation in these terrorist movements,” the Prime Minister said.
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