SYDNEY (Reuters) - The wife and five children of an Australian believed to have been photographed while holding severed heads of Syrian soldiers will face the “full severity of Australian law” if they attempt to return home, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Wednesday.
Abbott last week ruled out an amnesty for Australian citizens seeking to quit foreign militant groups and return home in the wake of media reports that his government was negotiating with potential defectors.
The family of suspected Australian Islamic State fighter Khaled Sharrouf would face the same consequences, Abbott said in response to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper that Sharrouf’s wife was seeking repatriation with their children.
“If criminals come within the reach of our law, whether they’re male or female, they will face the full severity of our law,” Abbott told reporters.
“ ... There are criminals who go to jail all the time and they have children, and the children of these particular criminals will be dealt with in the same way that the children of criminals are normally dealt with,” he said.
Australia issued arrest warrants last year for Sharrouf and another Australian citizen believed to be fighting with Islamic State in Syria after images emerged of the two holding the severed heads of Syrian soldiers.
A money transfer business linked to Sharrouf’s family was shut by the Australian government last year on suspicions it transferred up to A$20 million ($15.5 million) to foreign militants.
Analysts and Western government officials say Islamic State finances its operations through the sale of oil from oil-producing territory it has seized, the sale of cultural heritage artifacts and works of art, extortion and ransoms, as well as private donations.
Abbott has unveiled a raft of tough new policies aimed at combating the threat from Islamist radicalism, appointing a new counter-terror coordinator and proposing laws to strip dual nationals of their citizenship if they engage in militant acts.
Australia is on high alert for attacks by radicalized Muslims or by home-grown militants returning from fighting in the Middle East, having raised its threat level to high and undertaken a series of high-profile raids in major cities.
Under tough security powers declared by Abbott’s conservative government in October, Australian citizens can face up to a decade in prison for travel to overseas areas declared off-limits.
Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Leslie Adler and Paul Tait