Australia is trying to confirm reports that two of its most wanted Islamic State fighters have been killed in Iraq. The families of Khaled Sharrouf and Mohamed Elomar have told Australian media the pair died in a drone attack in the city of Mosul in the past week.
Khaled Sharrouf and Mohamed Elomar have become the faces of Australian extremism in the Middle East. The men left Sydney for Syria in 2013, and Australia issued warrants for their arrests a year later.
Ten years ago, Sharrouf was jailed for his part in the biggest terrorism conspiracy Australia has ever seen, although almost four years in prison did nothing to dampen his radicalism.
He was wanted by authorities in Canberra for his role in the suspected shooting execution of an Iraqi official outside Mosul. He gained international notoriety last year when he posted pictures on Twitter showing his seven-year-old son holding the severed head of what was thought to have been a Syrian soldier.
Elomar, too, had an active presence on social media, and had also been photographed holding the severed heads of pro-Syrian troops. There were concerns the Sydney men were using the Internet to try to recruit more volunteers from Australia to fight with Islamic State in the Middle East.
Clarke Jones, a counter-terrorism expert at the Australian National University, said the two’s social media presence enabled them to connect with the like-minded.
“They were very active on social media. And we saw Khaled Sharrouf and his sons holding severed heads up. They sort of showed young people what they could achieve and how they could come over and support the Islamic State. As crazy as that may sound, holding severed heads became a draw card for some,” said Jones.
Officials in Canberra say they are working to verify reports of the men’s deaths in Iraq.
Australia raised its domestic threat level to high last September and has since carried out a series of counter-terrorism raids, with several alleged plots foiled this year.
The government is this week preparing to bring in legislation to strip dual nationals linked to terrorism of their Australian citizenship.
Authorities have estimated that more than 100 Australians are fighting with militant groups in Iraq and Syria.