Australia sends troops to protect Baghdad embassy, PM vows to stop jihadists returning
Prime Minister Tony Abbot says Australia will prevent jihadists returning as armed unit is dispatched to Baghdad to protect embassy from ISIL militants advancing on the Iraqi capital
Agence France-Presse in Sydney
Australian jihadists fighting overseas who are “trained killers” and “hate our way of life” should be stopped from returning home and detained if they do, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Friday.
Australia has concerns that its citizens are fighting alongside Sunni militants in Iraq and Syria, including with the radical Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group.
“The important thing is to ensure that as far as is humanly possible they don’t come back into our country,” Abbott told Sydney radio station 2GB.
“And if they do come back into our country they are taken into detention because what we can’t have is trained killers – who hate our way of life, who hate us – making mischief with the potential to cause mayhem in our country.”
Abbott said more than 100 Australians had travelled to Syria and Iraq, and some had been involved with “this murderous, murderous al-Qaeda splinter group,” a reference to ISIL.
“Be in no doubt that some individuals from this country are now participating in acts of barbarity in Iraq,” Abbott added to journalists.
“These people should have no place in our country and we will do our best to keep them out.”
The European Union warned earlier this year that the number of young European Muslims going to fight alongside extremist groups in Syria and elsewhere is fast growing, and governments fear they will pose a security risk if they return home.
Abbott said authorities were keeping a careful watch on as many of the Australians who had travelled to conflict zones as possible.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said on Thursday she was “deeply concerned” about the threat Australian fighters could pose when they returned home, adding she had cancelled a number of passports on the advice of intelligence agencies.
Earlier on Friday a spokeswoman for Defence Minister David Johnston said Australia had sent a small detachment of soldiers to protect its embassy in Baghdad in the face of the ongoing offensive by Sunni Muslim jihadist ISIL forces.
The decision follows the move by key ally the United States to deploy 275 troops to help American personnel and protect its diplomatic compound in the Iraqi capital.
A spokeswoman for Defence Minister David Johnston said a small Australian Defence Force unit had been dispatched to bolster security arrangements at the embassy. No numbers were given.
“The purpose of this element is purely to support contingency planning in the event that an evacuation of the embassy is required,” she added.
Earlier this week, Australia evacuated some embassy staff with only an “essential core” remaining.
Abbott had voiced concerns about the safety of Australian staff in Baghdad.
He said nobody should underestimate the threat posed by the Sunni-led ISIL.
“Right now our focus is first of all ensuring that our people in Baghdad are safe and that we have the capacity to remove them if necessary,” he said.
Australia withdrew its soldiers guarding the embassy in 2011, the last significant Australian troop presence in the country, leaving the compound in the hands of a private security firm.
Australia once had some 2,000 soldiers in Iraq, one of the larger non-US deployments.