SYDNEY - Australia and Turkey have announced plans to stop the flow of Australians traveling to Syria to fight for Islamic radical groups. During a visit by Prime Minister Tony Abbot to Ankara, the governments say they are working to stop foreign fighters from using Turkey as a transit point.
The focus of the agreement between Australia and Turkey is intelligence sharing. Australia is increasingly worried about the number of its citizens fighting for militant groups in the Middle East, and officials will send information to Turkey about suspected Australian militants. Many have travelled through Turkey to reach conflicts in Iraq and Syria.
It is estimated that at least 70 Australians are fighting with the Islamic State group.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has said his government would detain alleged foreign fighters from Australia and would send them home if requested.
His Australian counterpart, Tony Abbott, is in Turkey ahead of the upcoming Anzac Day on April 25, commemorations marking a historic battle pitting Australian and New Zealand troops against the Ottoman Empire in 1915, during World War I.
Abbott says relations between Australia and Turkey have thrived since the conflict at Gallipoli.
“This is a relationship that had the worst possible beginning, but from that grim and gruesome beginning a deep and genuine friendship has grown," he said. "As a result of that very close cooperation, Australians who wish to go to Syria and Iraq via Turkey will find it increasingly difficult."
In Australia, an Islamic center linked to two teenagers accused of terrorism-related offenses closed down.
The al-Furqan Islamic Center has distanced itself from the men who were arrested during raids last weekend, and says it is closing its doors because of “insidious campaigns” by politicians and the media, leading to harassment and false accusations.
Sevdet Besim and Harun Causevic are accused of planning to carry out an attack on Anzac Day ceremonies. Investigators say the teenagers attended the al-Furqan Islamic Center.
It is alleged the two were associates of an 18-year-old man from Afghanistan who had also visited the center in Melbourne and was shot dead after stabbing two anti-terrorism officers in Australia last September.
Canberra raised the national terror threat level to "high" for the first time last September, when counter-terror raids took place after the police received information that Islamic State supporters planned to carry out a public beheading.