SYDNEY • Seven young suspected extremists have been stopped from leaving Australia amid fears that they plan to fight for terrorist groups in the Middle East, Prime Minister Tony Abbott revealed.
The government has been increasingly concerned about the flow of fighters to Iraq and Syria to join extremist organisations. Mr Abbott said yesterday the allure of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and similar groups remained strong.
"We have stopped at the airport seven young Australians who were planning to travel to the Middle East, it seems, to join terrorist groups over there," he said.
"This indicates the continuing allure of this death cult. It shows the importance of the most vigorous action at home and abroad to disrupt, to degrade, to destroy this menace to the freedom and the security of the world. "
The Sydney Daily Telegraph said five of the men tried to leave through Sydney airport together last Wednesday, triggering an alert due to the sums of money they were carrying. The report said some of the suspects were known to the authorities and their passports were immediately suspended. Canberra estimates there are 120 Australians still fighting in Iraq and Syria, while at least 30 have been killed. There are also believed to be about 160 sympathisers at home who send money to those fighting overseas.
Australia raised the country's terror-threat level to high almost a year ago, and has conducted several counter-terrorism raids in various cities since then. The government has also passed a number of national security laws and, in June, introduced legislation to strip dual nationals of their Australian citizenship because of terrorism links.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said he was worried about the number of young Australians seeking to fight overseas. "We are concerned about the number of people presenting at airports, particularly younger people, who might be seeking to travel overseas for reasons that would horrify Australians and their parents and family, and the community no doubt as well," he said.