Convicted Australian Terrorist Used Brother's Passport To Join Fight In Syria

The foreign minister, Julie Bishop, has confirmed that an Australian jihadist, who is believed to be involved in the murder of Iraqi citizens, left Australia for the battlefield in Syria using his brother’s passport.

On Sunday, Bishop confirmed that the convicted terrorist Khaled Sharrouf, one of the insurgents implicated in recent massacres of civilians in Iraq by extremists belonging to the militant group, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or Isis, had left Australia “on his brother's passport”.

In 2009, Sharrouf pleaded guilty in the NSW Supreme Court to possessing goods in preparation for a terrorist act and was jailed for almost four years.

Bishop said the domestic national security risks associated with Australians participating in the Syrian and Iraqi conflicts, and potential security incidents such as the one involving Sharrouf, was a front-of-mind issue for the cabinet.

Speaking on ABC television, she declined to go into the specific security arrangements that applied in the Sharrouf matter, saying that this would not be helpful, but she implied the national security incident was the subject of a review.

On the broader national security risks posed by returning jihadists, the foreign minister said there was a “whole of government” response. “Our national security committee is discussing this matter and we are working out ways to ensure that Australians are safe from what I find to be a deeply disturbing development in our domestic security,” she said.

Late in 2013, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (Asio) used its annual report to parliament to warn there was an increased risk of fighters in Syria perpetrating violence in Australia on their return home.

That warning was repeated recently by Bret Walker SC, the now axed independent national security legislation monitor, who recommended that the director-general of Asio be given powers to suspend passports at short notice, and that the federal government should also consider laws to revoke people’s citizenship.

As far back as January this year, the immigration minister, Scott Morrison, was signalling publicly that the government could seek to remove the Australian citizenship rights of dual nationals fighting in Syria, along the lines of powers being exercised in Britain.

On Friday, Morrison said revoking citizenship rights remained on the table. “Nothing is ever ruled out on these matters and they are always subject to continued discussion,” he said.

On Sunday, Bishop said she had cancelled a number of passports when citizens were deemed to present security risks, but she declined to give specific details. Last week, the minister confirmed that about 150 Australians had been identified as being involved in insurgencies overseas.

Meanwhile, Morrison told the Ten Network on Sunday that arrangements had been made to monitor cross-border movements of Australians who were identified as posing domestic risks in relation to current conflicts.

The immigration minister declined an invitation by television presenter Andrew Bolt to disavow all immigration from the Middle East, or to screen people for “cultural compatibility” with Australia. Morrison said criminality was not ethnic specific, and he said the people at present identified on watchlists were Australian citizens.

In ramping up the national security challenge late last week, the prime minister, Tony Abbott, said the objective was “to ensure that, as far as is humanly possible, [jihadists] don't come back into our country, and if they do come back into our country they are taken into detention because what we can't have is trained killers – who hate our way of life, who hate us – making mischief with the potential to cause mayhem in our country. We just can’t have that”.

The US president, Barack Obama, has also expressed concern about the recent activities of Australian fighters. “There is no doubt the problem in Syria is one that we have been paying a lot of attention to over the last couple of years, as you see jihadists coming in from Europe and as far as Australia to get trained and then going back into their home countries,” Obama said in an interview on CNN.

“This is something we have been deeply concerned about. Part of the reason we have been supporting a moderate opposition effort in Syria is to make sure there are forces countering some of the gains some of these extremist organisations have made inside of Syria,” the president said.

On Sunday, Bishop again played down the idea that Australia would be asked to have any substantial combat role in Iraq. “I don't envisage that situation,” she said. “Certainly the Iraqi government has not requested support … has not requested Australia to provide any military support. The United States has not requested us to do so.”

Australian special forces soldiers are in Baghdad to protect Australian diplomatic staff.


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