Prime Minister Tony Abbott says Australian foreign fighters seeking to return home will be arrested and prosecuted.
Lawyers are seeking leniency from the government in seeking to return their clients who have been fighting with Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, arguing that they could help with deradicalising Australian youths.
“If you go, and you seek to come back, as far as this government is concerned you will be arrested, you will be prosecuted and you will be jailed,” Mr Abbott told reporters in Sydney today.
“We are hardly going to welcome you back into the country. You will be arrested and jailed.”
A lawyer representing the Australian is refusing to identify his client, saying only that he is a Victorian man who wants to return home.
“We’re trying to engage the Federal Police particularly, in a program that might see him benefit the community here, both in terms of deradicalisation and probably intelligence,” Rob Stary told 3AW radio.
He says police have rejected their proposal.
“They don’t want to be part of it. They say, ‘if he comes back we will charge him. He’ll face the full force of the law’,” Mr Stary said.
At least three Australians suspected of fighting with terrorist groups in Syria are believed to be in secret negotiations with the federal government to return home, The Australian newspaper reports.
They are believed to be in Turkey, while negotiating through their lawyers to return home.
Talks have stalled amid concerns from the fighters over what punishment they would face and fears by authorities that they may pose a terror risk here.
Peter Jennings, executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said he doubted whether the Australians would be of value in terms of intelligence but there were other benefits.
“Where I think they would be valuable is in the deradicalisation process back in Australia,” Dr Jennings told AAP.
“They could puncture the mythology.”
Such measures were needed to stop young men joining the extremist group, with well over 100 Australians now fighting alongside IS.
“We are seeing a big spike up of 17 and 18-year-olds – for a certain group of kids this is now cool,” Dr Jennings said.
The returned foreign fighters would still need to go through the courts, but their knowledge would be valuable in telling young men about the IS culture of violence, sexual slavery and brainwashing.
In the short-term, the men seeking to return to Australia may be in danger of being killed if the IS leadership identifies them.
“If they are returned it must happen quickly because they will go looking for people with Australian accents.”
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten says he will seek more information from the government on the issue of foreign fighters seeking to return to Australia.
“Australians shouldn’t be going overseas to fight in these causes or these battles,” he told reporters in Brisbane today.
“But we will seek a briefing from the government.”
Labor has a fundamental belief in the concept of rehabilitation, Mr Shorten said.
© AAP 2015