Australia intercepts seven men bound for Middle East

PM says arrests over suspicions the men planned to "join terrorist groups" show continuing "allure of death cult".

    Australia intercepts seven men bound for Middle East
    Abbott's government is preparing a bill to strip dual nationals involved in terrorism of their citizenship [EPA]

    Seven young Australian men have been arrested by authorities after they attempted to board flights to the Middle East, according to the Australian prime minister.

    Tony Abbott said on Thursday the arrests were "over suspicions they wanted to join militant Islamist groups".

    "We have stopped at the airport seven young Australians who were planning to travel to the Middle East, it seems, to join terrorist groups over there," he announced in Canberra.

    Peter Dutton, Australia's border protection minister, said five of the men - in their 20s and 30s - were prohibited from flying last week from Sydney airport to an undisclosed location.

    He said the men were found to be carrying about USD7,347 each when their luggage was searched.

    On the weekend, another two men were intercepted at the airport when they attempted to board a flight.

    Dutton said these men had connections with the previously arrested five.

    'Death cult's allure'

    Abbott said "this indicates the continuing allure of this death cult", and that "it shows the importance of the most vigorous action - at home and abroad - to disrupt, to degrade, and to destroy this menace to the freedom and the security of the world".

    A report in the Daily Telegraph said the passports of the seven men had been suspended, and the group was under investigation by federal authorities.

    The development comes after the government pledged a crackdown on "radicalisation".

    Two teenage brothers, aged 16 and 17, suspected of being ISIL recruits, were stopped at Sydney airport in March this year.

    Opinion: Australia's national security and Muslim concerns

    Australia is on high alert for attacks by Muslim combatants, including home-grown fighters returning from conflicts in the Middle East, and has carried out series of high-profile raids in major cities.

    This high alert status has been in place since a deadly siege in Sydney in December on a city centre cafe, which ended when the police stormed the establishment after a 17-hour standoff.

    The incident claimed the lives of two hostages.

    The attacker, Haron Monis, who was seeking to align himself with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group, was also killed.

    Citizenship removal

    In addition to attempts to safeguard against any domestic attacks, Australian officials have intensified efforts to prevent dissident citizens from flying to join organisations such as ISIL, which has claimed large areas of Iraq and Syria.

    The Australian government is preparing to put in place a bill that will enable the removal of citizenship for dual nationals involved in terrorism.

    The bill will also cover a range of other conducts, including damage to commonwealth property. Due to this, the breadth of the bill is being questioned, and many constitutional experts argue that the legislation is vulnerable to a high court challenge.

    Dutton has allowed for the possibility of changes to the legislation after the government receives a report from the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security.

    Abbott has said in parliament that at least 70 Australians are currently fighting in Iraq and Syria and are supported by around 100 Australia-based "facilitators".

    A high security alert status has been in place in Australia since a deadly siege on a city centre cafe in Sydney in December [Reuters]


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