Australia stops third teenager headed for Middle East to fight with ISIS

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia has prevented a third teenager from flying out to fight in the Middle East, a minister said on Wednesday, as Western countries battle to stop the flow of youngsters to militant groups.

The 17-year-old boy was taken off a plane at Sydney airport on March 12 after being interviewed by counter-terrorism officers, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton told reporters. He has since been returned to his family while investigations continue.

Two other boys, aged 16 and 17, with tickets to an undisclosed Middle Eastern country were stopped from leaving Australia on March 6.

The cases came after three British schoolgirls left their London homes to join Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants in Syria in February, which sparked accusations that the authorities had failed to warn families their children risked being radicalised.

Some 200 people have been prevented from leaving Australia to become foreign fighters with terrorist groups, the authorities say.

"The point of all this is there is a significant and growing threat at our airports and our borders," Mr Dutton said.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott underlined that no effort would be spared to prevent people joining groups such as ISIS.

"We will do everything we can to stop you if you do try," Mr Abbott told the same press conference.

"It is absolutely critical that the people of Australia appreciate that the death cult is reaching out to vulnerable and impressionable young people.

"The death cult is reaching out, seeking effectively to brainwash people online," he said.

According to the government, about 100 Australians are fighting with ISIS and other militant groups in Syria and Iraq, with another 150 supporting them at home.

Australia announced on March 3 that it was sending another 300 troops to Iraq in a joint mission with New Zealand to help train local forces fighting to reclaim territory seized by ISIS.

Some 170 Australian special forces are already in Iraq helping to train government troops.

Canberra has boosted security measures amid fears of heightened threats from "home-grown" ISIS-inspired extremists, including revoking citizenship for dual nationals linked to terrorism.