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Australia broadens scope of targets in fight against IS

Australia's prime minister has said the country will alter its definition of airstrike targets, to include indirect support networks of militant jihadis. Turnbull also warned of a rise in domestic anti-Muslim extremism.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Thursday told parliament that the country's laws would soon be amended to give Australian pilots the same directives as those of coalition partners in the fight against "Islamic State" (IS).

The current Australian definition of combatants - IS militants playing a "direct and active part in hostilities" - is to be expanded to include support and logistics targets. The changes would give Australia's F/A-18 Hornet fighter pilots the same legal status as coalition partners in Iraq and Syria.

Turnbull told parliament in Canberra that the changes would allow the military "to target Daesh [IS] at its core, joining with our coalition partners to target and kill a broader range of Daesh combatants, which is consistent with international law."

Australia currently has some 780 defense personnel in the Middle East supporting US-led operations against IS.

Tougher laws against homegrown jihadis

The prime minister added that, in an effort to combat domestic extremism, he would press ahead with legislation to detain high-risk Islamist militants indefinitely - beyond the completion of court-imposed sentences. Those who were released could be subject to tight control orders that would limit their movement and communications.

Australian officials raised the domestic terror threat alert level to "high" in September 2014, with parliament passing laws to prevent nationals traveling to terror hotspots such as Iraq and Syria without a valid reason. Turnbull said more than 60 Australians had been killed in Iraq and Syria so far, and that some 200 people were under investigation for supporting militant groups at home.

One feature of the radicalization in Australia has been the age of individuals, many of them teenagers, involved in plots to travel to Syria or with helping to fund terrorism.

Danger of right wing extremists

While the prime minister described IS as the most pressing national security threat to Australia, he also warned of an increase in far-right, anti-Muslim domestic extremism. One anti-immigration campaigner was charged last month with preparing a terror attack in the southeastern city of Melbourne.

"We cannot be effective if we are creating division, whether by fomenting distrust within the Muslim community or inciting fear of Muslims in broader society," Turnbull said. "Division begets division. It makes violence more likely, not less."

Amid rising right-wing sentiment, Turnbull is resisting demands from a number of senators to stop Muslim immigration. He has also resisted pressure from members of his own conservative government to water down anti-discrimination laws that make it an offence to insult individuals because of race, color, ethnicity or nationality.

rc/sms (AP, AFP)

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