“Weak”: Three reasons why Australia should own its Islamic State fighters


Should Australia strip its Islamic State fighters of their citizenship or bring them home to prosecute and rehabilitate them? The Australian Government says its “determined to deal with these people as far from our shores as possible.” Experts disagree.

The fall of the Islamic State in the Middle East has left governments across the globe grappling with the same issue: should they take back captured foreign fighters?

Citizens like 'IS bride' Zehra Duman, who is waiting in a Syrian camp with her two small children, hoping to come back to Australia.

The federal government has vowed citizens fighting for IS would ‘face the consequences’ should they return home but has made it clear they don’t want them on Australian soil.

“The Morrison Government is determined to deal with these people as far from our shores as possible and ensure that any who do return do so with forewarning and into the hands of appropriate agencies”, a spokeswoman for Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton told The Feed.

But what do terrorism experts think?

 'Australian position weak'

UNSW terrorism expert Professor Greg Austin says the Australian government’s position to deal with Islamic State fighters from afar is simply “weak” .

He warns a terrorist fighter captured in Syria or Iraq is less likely to be brought to justice in the Middle East compared to Australia.

“The bigger concern is that they fall into the Turkish justice system or the Syrian justice system,” he said.

“We know how pathetic they are and riddled with sympathisers.”

Mr Austin said he understands the government’s position but ultimately believes Australia should take responsibility.

“The idea that they will escape lightly without any supervision in the world is scary.”

Professor Greg Austin

 A source of information

Director of counter-terrorism policy at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute Dr Isaac Kfir said returned fighters pose a big opportunity: massive intelligence assets.

“One advantage of repatriating IS members is their knowledge of the group and radicalisation. We can find out exactly what transpired in the Islamic State,” he said.

“We can also understand the grooming process that led those individuals to join.”

Dr Kfir said the captured IS members should be divided in three groups: fighters, partners and children.

“Otherwise it undermines the complexity of the situation,” he said.

He said it could help prevent future Australians getting involved in the conflict.

“A bride who talks about the oppressive nature of the State and could help deter other young women from engaging in radical activities.”

Dr Isaac Kfir

Our 'legal and moral responsibility'

Australia needs to move beyond domestic politics and prioritise what is in the country’s best interest, says Professor of global Islamic politics Greg Barton.

“Our interests are better served dealing with our own problem, despite what politicians say,” he said.

He explains that clear laws mean Australia is in a strong position to prosecute repatriated terrorists.

“We changed our laws that if someone was in Raqqa, Nineveh province, Mosul - then the responsibility is on them to show they weren’t involved in terrorism,” he said.

“This is unlike Canada, the UK and other European countries who are struggling with this problem.


Greg Barton