Canberra will consider children in foreign fighter conundrum


The government is yet to confirm whether it would allow Mr Masri to bring his family back to Australia.

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A spokeswoman for Mr Dutton said returning foreign fighters would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis but that the government would be more sympathetic in instances where children were involved.

“The welfare and needs of children would form part of these considerations,” the spokeswoman said, while maintaining that “anyone fighting with or providing support or associating with IS or other terrorist groups has committed a serious crime and will face the consequences should they return to Australia.”

Labor is also open to locking up Australian fighters but would not comment on the Masri case.

“This is a problem that many western countries are currently dealing with, as thousands of people leave former IS territories,” shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said.

“Any Australians who have travelled overseas to fight with ISIS have committed serious crimes under Australian law and they must be made accountable – whether overseas or in Australia. Every case will be tested against Australian law.”

Since 2014, it has been illegal for Australians to merely travel to IS heartlands Mosul and Al-Raqqa and it remains illegal to fight with, support or associate with terrorist organisations.

Parliament’s intelligence and security committee is reviewing a bill that would allow Australia to bar a foreign fighter from entering the country for up to two years, in which time the government would set up safeguards against domestic radicalisation and terrorism.

On Monday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison accused Labor of delaying the laws.

“Labor are playing games with this legislation,” Mr Morrison said. “I’m not going to put one Australian life at risk to try and extract people from these dangerous situations.”

The United States last month urged Australia to  “take responsibility” for Islamic State fighters captured in the Middle East and bring them home to prosecute or rehabilitate them.

A leading counter-terrorism expert on Monday warned returning fighters pose a significant security threat because they could become a rallying point for both Australia-based extremists and returning fundamentalists.

National Security College director Jacinta Carroll said up to 100 returning IS fighters would have credibility in local extremist communities.

“We’ve seen from some high-profile supporters of IS in Australia that they enjoy being associated with the terrorist organisation,” Ms Carroll said.

“If someone had been in the Middle East with IS and came back to Australia, that gives them an enormous amount of kudos and high status.

“They could be a rallying point for others.”

Max is a journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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