Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has warned jihadists wishing to return home that there will be no leniency. It comes as three of its nationals are reportedly in secret negotiations with Canberra to come home.
Australian media have reported that Australian authorities in the Middle East were in talks with three Australian citizens currently fighting for "Islamic State" ("IS"), who are said to want to defect but are afraid to return home for fear of being jailed.
Australian Federal Police said in a statement that they were "aware of a small number of Australians who have made approaches to return" from conflict zones in Syria and Iraq.
On Tuesday, Abbott said the full force of the law would apply to anyone who returns, even if they claim to have reformed. "A crime is a crime is a crime," he told reporters.
"If you go abroad to break Australian law, 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," he added.
But Robert Stary, a lawyer for one of the three, argues that the government should regard his client, who uses the name Abu Ibrahim, not just as a potential terrorist, but also as a valuable resource to help de-radicalize young Australians.
Although adamant about applying the full force of the law, Abbott did not say he ruled out the possibility for fighters to return.
Last October, Abbott's conservative government pushed through a new law criminalizing travel to terror hotspots without good reason, with those charged facing up to 10 years in jail.
Under the law, passports of suspected terrorists get cancelled, stranding would-be jihadists at home and preventing foreign fighters from returning.
A month prior to passing the law, Australia had raised its threat level to high and has since carried out a series of counter-terrorism raids, with several alleged plots foiled this year.
Abbott told parliament at least 70 Australians were fighting in Iraq and Syria backed by about 100 Australia-based "facilitators."
ng/kms (Reuters, AFP, AP)