Australia says 60 citizens fighting in Iraq and Syria

Fears that fighters will return to sow terror at home is a concern for many nations, including Saudi Arabia, where 18 people were convicted of helping recruitment for Islamist militants.

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CANBERRA // Sixty Australians are fighting alongside Islamist militants in Syria and Iraq, and another 15 have been killed, including two young suicide bombers, the country’s intelligence chief said on Wednesday.

David Irvine, director general of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, said the fighters were with the Al Qaeda offshoots Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and Jabhat Al Nusra, also known as the Nusra Front

Another 100 Australians are actively supporting extremist groups from within Australia, Mr Irvine said, recruiting fighters and grooming suicide bomber candidates as well as providing funds and equipment.

“In the past two years, the situation in Syria and Iraq has radically complicated the [terrorist] threat, adding energy and allure to the extremist Islamic narrative,” he said.

Dozens of Australian fighters had already returned home, and “a good number of these” remained a concern to security authorities, he said.

The threat of terrorism from fighters in Iraq and Syria who become radicalised and return home is a worry for western countries as well as those in the Middle East.

As well as closer monitoring of former fighters, these countries are also cracking down on recruitment by the militants groups.

Saudi security forces said on Tuesday they had detained eight citizens suspected of inciting young people to go to join militant groups abroad.

The state news agency SPA cited the interior ministry as saying they were arrested the eight during a raid on the town of Tumair, north of the capital Riyadh, following complaints from parents of the young men.

Saudi Arabia has banned citizens from fighting abroad, donating money to any faction or sympathising with militant ideologies.

Saudi courts have tried several groups of citizens and foreigners on charges ranging from providing financial support to militants abroad to plotting attacks inside the kingdom.

In the latest trial, a court in Riyadh found 12 people guilty of plotting to blow up a foreign diplomatic mission, adopting extremist ideology and providing financial support for fighters abroad, SPA said.

The 12, comprising six Saudi citizens, five Yemenis and one Palestinian, were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 18 months to 20 years in jail.

Another group of five Saudis and an Omani were convicted of plotting to kill Saudi secret police officers, adopting an extremist ideology and proposing to set up a training camp in Sudan and sentenced them to terms ranging from three to 20 years in jail, SPA said.

* Associated Press and Reuters