Australian police on Thursday arrested a man believed to have fought with Syrian militants and a youth who was stopped at the border allegedly planning to join ISIS terrorists in Syria.
The pair were detained in early morning raids in Sydney, underscoring Australia’s tough stance on dealing with so called “foreign fighters” heading overseas to join in conflicts in countries including Syria and Iraq.
Australia has imposed some of the harshest penalties in the world on foreign militants returning home as the country leads a push for the United Nations to adopt international standards to curb the threat they pose.
“It is very unfortunate that even though ISIS is losing significant ground over there that we still have people, particularly young people, that are attracted to the ideology and are still attempting to leave the country,” Neil Gaughan, national manager of counter-terrorism for the Australian Federal Police, told reporters.
The 24-year-old man and the 17-year-old youth were both charged with breaching Australia’s foreign incursion laws, which prohibit travel to foreign countries with the intention of engaging in hostile activity. Those found guilty face up to 25 years imprisonment.
Security analysts have put the number of foreign militants in Iraq and Syria, travelling from scores of countries around the world, in the thousands. The Australian government estimates more than 100 nationals are among them.
A staunch U.S. ally, Australia has been on heightened alert for attacks by home-grown terrorists. Recent “lone wolf” attacks include the 2014 Sydney cafe siege in which two hostages and the gunman were killed and the murder of police accountant Curtis Cheng by 15-year old Farhad Khalil Mohammad Jabar in March 2016.
Police said the 24-year-old man travelled to Syria in 2013, where he joined al Nusra, an affiliate of al Qaeda, before returning to Australia in 2014.
“The disturbing feature that we are seeing increasingly is very young people who have not been on the radar screen of any of our current terrorist agencies, state or federal, are becoming very quickly radicalised and either attempting or undertaking terrorist acts,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters in Sydney.