Flow of Aussies has hit 'plateau'

SYDNEY • The flow of Australians joining militant groups has reached "a plateau", the nation's domestic spy chief has said, amid reports the intelligence agency has warned politicians to tone down criticism of Islam.

Mr Duncan Lewis, head of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, said he was "not declaring victory" despite a slowdown in the flow of nationals travelling to fight with militant organisations such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the Middle East.

"I don't want to be giving any sense that we are through the worst of this. I don't think that's right," he told the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday, adding that some 44 Australians have so far died in Syria. "But while it had been escalating fast, the sense is that we have plateaued a bit."

Between 27,000 and 31,000 people from at least 86 countries are estimated to have headed to Iraq and Syria to fight since 2011, intelligence consultancy the Soufan Group said in a report last week.

Australia's Attorney-General George Brandis said recently that some 110 of its nationals were thought to be in the two countries, down from previous estimates of 120.

Mr Lewis credited new laws allowing for passports to be cancelled to prevent Australians from leaving the country, as well as growing awareness among communities and families, for a shift in the trend. His comments came as The Australian newspaper claimed Mr Lewis had contacted politicians requesting they tone down their rhetoric against Islam as it could become a national security risk.

While ousted prime minister Tony Abbott used strong language against ISIS and recently said "we can't remain in denial about the massive problem with Islam", current leader Malcolm Turnbull has taken a more moderate line.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 18, 2015, with the headline 'Flow of Aussies has hit 'plateau''. Print Edition | Subscribe