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Australians fighting in Syria face fresh warnings over criminal sanctions

Australians who travel to Syria to fight in the conflict have again been warned they face serious criminal charges as the Federal Government lists a second group as a terrorist organisation.

The Attorney General, George Brandis, has listed the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as a terrorist organisation, which means that Australians caught fighting for the group could face jail when they return to Australia.

ASIO is understood to have received intelligence of Australian fighters in Syria joining ISIL, a group formerly known and listed as al-Qaeda in Iraq, The Australian newspaper reported in December.

ASIO reportedly believes this group is attracting a number of the Australians fighting with extremists in Syria, including many who had previously fought with another al-Qaeda affiliate, Al-Nusrah Front, which had also been banned by the Government.

ISIL and Al-Nusrah are among the anti-Assad forces fighting in Syria, and are considered among the most extreme.

“It doesn’t matter who you are or what you believe in, if you choose to illegally participate in a foreign conflict you are not only breaking the law, you are placing yourself in immense danger.” said Deputy Commissioner Burn.

– Catherine Burn, NSW Deputy Police Commissioner

The Syrian conflict has also claimed more Australian lives, with three Australians including a man and his wife reportedly killed this month in the raging civil war.

Terrorism expert Shandon Harris-Hogan, from the Global Terrorism Research Centre at Monash University, has been quoted as saying that the numbers of young Australians fighting a guerrilla war overseas was unprecedented and could further radicalise those involved.

\"We have never had to deal with anything like this before,\" he said.

Authorities are worried that Australians who travel to Syria may return to Australia radicalised and with combat skills picked up from extremists.

In a joint press release in December from the AFP and NSW Police, the AFP Deputy Commissioner for National Security, Peter Drennan said: “We realise the Syrian conflict is an important issue for many people in our community, and there are a number of ways people in Australia can help in legitimate humanitarian and democratic ways – such as making donations to a United Nations agency or non-government organisation providing humanitarian assistance in and around Syria.”

In NSW, the Police Force’s Deputy Commissioner of Specialist Operations, Catherine Burn, warned that Australians who involved themselves in foreign conflicts could find themselves associating with terrorists.

“It doesn’t matter who you are or what you believe in, if you choose to illegally participate in a foreign conflict you are not only breaking the law, you are placing yourself in immense danger,” said Deputy Commissioner Burn.

“We know that a number of terrorist organisations are involving themselves in overseas wars in a bid to advance their own interests.

“Aside from our Defence personnel, Australian citizens have no place participating in foreign conflicts, where they may find themselves working or fighting alongside proscribed terrorist groups.”

Stepan Kerkyasharian, the outgoing Chair of the Community Relations Commission, which publishes this website, said it was a major concern that Australians were being lured to Syria under the guise of defending their religion.

He warned they were being used as “cannon fodder” in a geo-political power struggle.

“I\'ve never seen a situation where people are being misled like this,” he told reporters. “They are being duped.”

AUSTRALIA/SYRIA BY NUMBERS

AUSTRALIANS KILLED: 8

The number of Australians believed killed in the Syrian conflict has risen to at least 8, including the deaths this month of Yusuf Ali and his wife, Amira.

AUSTRALIANS ARRESTED: 2

Two Sydney men were charged last December for allegedly forming part of a network that had facilitated the travel, or attempted travel, of at least six Australians to Syria.

PASSPORTS CANCELLED: 20

ASIO has reportedly cancelled the passports of 20 Sydney men over fears they would travel overseas to engage in “politically-motivated violence”.

What ASIO says about Syria in its latest annual report: Syria is the primary destination for Australians fighting abroad.

The Point

Australians who travel to Syria to fight in the conflict have again been warned they face serious criminal charges

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