SYDNEY - Australia is ruling out any leniency for returning jihadis following reports that at least three of its citizens fighting with Islamic State militants in Syria want to return home. Lawyers say the men have become disenchanted and could play a valuable role in efforts to stop the radicalization of young Muslims in Australia, but the government insists homesick fighters will be prosecuted and jailed if they return.
Australia Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he will not show mercy to citizens who join militant groups abroad but then regret it and try to return home. He was responding to reports that three Australians fighting with Islamist groups in Syria are in talks about returning. A lawyer for one man said his client was disillusioned with jihad and could help dissuade others from joining up, but he conceded he was unlikely to return to Australia in “the current context.”
During six months with militant fighters, he reportedly witnessed crucifixions and people being stoned to death.
The man, a convert to Islam, who is a nurse, has said he has become disillusioned, and misses his family and wants to come home.
But Abbott said homesick jihadis will not be shown any leniency.
“If you go abroad to kill innocent people in the name of misguided fundamentalism and extremism, if you go abroad to become an Islamist killer, well, we are hardly going to welcome you back into this country. The Australian people expect their country to be safe and someone who has been a terrorist abroad could very easily become a terrorist here in Australia,” said Abbott.
It is estimated that more than 100 Australians have joined radical Islamic groups in Iraq and Syria.
Last year, the government made it an offense to travel to conflict zones in the Middle East without good reason, with those charged facing up to 10 years in prison.
In September, Canberra raised its domestic threat level to high and has since carried out a series of counter-terrorism raids, with several alleged plots foiled in recent months.