Australians taking up leadership roles in Islamic State says Julie Bishop

Significant number of Australians taking up leadership roles in Islamic State says Julie Bishop

August 27, 2014

(Translation of this article appears in Arabic section)

A "significant number" of Australians have taken up "leadership roles" in the barbaric Islamic State terrorist group, says Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

And Ms Bishop says authorities know about 100 more people in Australia who are supporting up to 60 Australians who are fighting alongside terrorists in Syria and Iraq.

Ms Bishop has issued a "call to other nations" to build a "coalition of support" involving "Arab nations" to counter home grown terrorist activity.

"We want to build a coalition of support to stop this kind of terrorist activity," the foreign minister told ABC Radio.

The issue is likely to be placed on the agenda at the upcoming United Nations General Assembly leaders meeting which Prime Minister Tony Abbott could attend.

She said Australia and America had first begun discussing the idea at the recent AUSMIN meeting in Sydney.

"The US joins in our deep concern about hardened home grown terrorists," she said.

She said Australia had not been asked to provide any military assistance to try and counter Islamic State's advance across Iraq and said the Government was focussed on providing humanitarian support.

The government is offering crossbench Senators access to intelligence briefings before they vote on proposed new counter-terror laws.

They include a proposal to collect the internet connection records of every day Australians and a reversal of the presumption of innocence for people planning to travel to terrorist hotspots.

Under the proposal Australians would be forced to justify their travel plans to authorities.

Arab countries need to help fight extremists: Bishop

August 26, 2014

Arab countries as well as the West need to stop the spread of extremist groups such as the brutal Islamic State, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has said as she prepares to take the issue of foreign fighters to the United Nations.

Ms Bishop spoke with her United States counterpart, Secretary of State John Kerry, on Tuesday morning and said afterwards that Australia was ready to continue helping Washington in Iraq.

"The United States has been taking a leadership role ... in Iraq," Ms Bishop said. "We've been working closely with them to prevent the humanitarian crisis and Australia stands ready to continue to help avert a humanitarian crisis in Northern Iraq.

"It's a matter for countries around the world, not just the United States, not just Australia but Arab states as well, to take action to prevent this kind of terrorism from spreading."

Ms Bishop said she and Mr Kerry discussed their joint plan, announced recently following the AUSMIN meeting in Sydney, to take the problem of foreign fighters with extremist groups to the United Nations General Assembly leaders' meeting next month.

While much of the attention has focussed on Westerners – including dozens of Australians – joining groups such as the Islamic State, there is also increasing pressure on Iraq and Syria's neighbours to stem the flow of money and fighters from within their borders to the conflict zones.

Saudi Arabia hosted a crisis meeting at the weekend to discuss the problem with other key players Egypt, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

Ms Bishop's comments came as the Abbott government announced it was spending $64 million to stop radicalisation of Australians at home. The money will come from the $630 million counter-terrorism boost the government has already announced.

Attorney-General George Brandis said the current threat of extremists coming back from the Middle East was the "greatest national security threat that Australia has faced in many years".

"The escalating terrorist situation in Iraq and Syria poses an increasing threat, unlike any other that this country has experienced, to the security of Australians both at home and overseas," he said.

Australia has so far contributed humanitarian air drops to refugees in Iraq fleeing the onslaught of Islamic State fighters. The federal government is considering more substantial military involvement, but that would rest on Washington deciding to get more involved.

Meanwhile, shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus signalled Labor has concerns about the principle of reversing the onus of proof under government proposals to declare terrorism no-go zones that would force travellers to certain regions to prove they are not terrorists.

Mr Dreyfus said Labor would not give the government a "blank cheque" by promising to support such measures before it has seen the legislation.

"The presumption of innocence is an absolutely fundamental part of Australian law and any time you are talking about ... reversing the onus of proof ... that's something that has to be of concern," he said.


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