CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Seven young Australians were recently prevented from leaving the country for fear that they intended to join terrorists in the Middle East, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Thursday.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott refused to give details, including who the seven were, their ages, gender or where and when they were intercepted.
“We have stopped at the airport seven young Australians who were planning to travel to the Middle East, it seems, to join terrorist groups over there,” Tony Abbott told reporters.
“This indicates the continuing allure of this death cult,” he said, referring to the Islamic State movement. “It shows the importance of the most vigorous action at home and abroad to disrupt, degrade, to destroy this menace to the freedom and the security of the world.”
The largest single group of suspected jihadis to attempt to leave Australia for Syria and Iraq were stopped by counterterrorism authorities at Sydney International Airport on Aug. 12, The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported Thursday. That group comprised five men, the newspaper reported, citing an unnamed intelligence source.
Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton confirmed in Parliament that the largest single group of suspected jihadis had been intercepted at the airport, but he did not confirm the number.
Counterterrorism teams had prevented 336 suspected jihadis from leaving Australian airports in the 12 months through June, Dutton said. Another 125 Australians had been grounded by having their passports canceled, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said.
“Allowing these people to go to foreign shores to be trained in the acts of terrorism mean that when these people return to Australia, they pose an even greater threat,” Dutton told Parliament.
He said legislation to be introduced to Parliament in September that would allow foreign fighters who are dual nationals to be stripped of their Australian citizenship would also help prevent their return.
“We are concerned about the number of people presenting at airports, particularly younger people, who might be seeking to travel overseas for reasons that would horrify Australians and their parents and family and community, no doubt, as well,” Dutton told reporters earlier.
Australia has posted counterterrorism units at all international airports since September last year in a bid to prevent jihadis traveling to the Middle East.