Australia to strip citizenship of some ISIS fighters

Police watch as people pray during a rally against negative coverage of Islam and French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo's caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed, in Sydney, Jan. 23, 2015.


CANBERRA, Australia -- Australia plans to strip citizenship from Australian-born children of immigrants who become Islamic State fighters in its crackdown on homegrown jihadis, a minister said on Thursday.

The government wants to change the Citizenship Act to make fighting for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) a reason for losing citizenship, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said.

The government also wants to adopt the British legal model by revoking the citizenship of extremists who are Australian-born children of immigrants or an immigrant, forcing them to take up citizenship in the birth country of their parents, or parent, Dutton said.

Dual nationals could also lose their Australian citizenship, while Australians without claim to another nationality could not.

"The principle for us, which is very important, is that we don't render people stateless," Dutton told Sydney Radio 2GB.

Australia can currently only revoke citizenship in cases of fraud in the citizenship application or where an Australian citizen joins the armed forces of another country to fight Australia.

Because ISIS is not recognized as a state, membership is not a ground for losing Australian citizenship, Dutton said

"I can hardly walk down the street without people saying: 'Why do you let these people back into our country? They come back more radicalized,'" Dutton said.

"They are a huge threat to Australian citizens. We should act and that's what the government is doing," he added.

George Williams, a University of New South Wales constitutional law professor, said the Parliament could probably change the law on revoking citizenship without any constitutional obstacle. The Australian constitutional makes no mention of citizenship and contains no protections for its citizens akin to the U.S. Bill of Rights.

But critics argue that Australia should prosecute and imprison its terrorists rather than shunt them to other countries.

Many Australians charged with or suspected of terrorism crimes are the Australian-born children of parents who fled conflicts in Lebanon and Afghanistan.

The 17-year-old son of a Syrian-born doctor arrested at the family home in Melbourne city two weeks ago became Australia's latest accused terrorist. Police allege he had three pipe bombs concealed at the house and was planning an attack soon.

The teen, whose name cannot be released, became the 23rd suspect charged with terrorism-related offences in Australia since September when the national terrorism threat was elevated to the second highest level because of the danger posed by ISIS. A third of the terrorism charges in Australia filed since the al Qaeda attacks on the United States in 2001 have come since September.

ISIS militants have had conspicuous success in recruiting in Australia, which has 24 million people. The majority are Christian while 2 percent are Muslim.

The London-based International Center for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence estimates that between 100 and 250 Australians have joined Sunni militants in Iraq and Syria. The center estimates only 100 U.S. fighters have arrived from an American population more than 13-times larger.

Counterterrorism units were posted at Australian airports after the terror alert was raised in September. The government said on Thursday 288 passengers had been prevented from leaving Australia on security grounds since then.

And as CBS News' Clarissa Ward reported in September, not all the young Muslims who decide to join ISIS remain commited to that notion, particularly once they see in person the brutal tactics used by the militants. Many have returned home to Europe, Asia and even the U.S., and figuring out what to do with them -- including broader punishment options like the ones sought by Australia's leaders -- is a significant challenge.

Ward met a 27-year-old European man who spent two years fighting in Syria with Islamic extremists, but told Ward he came home feeling dissilusioned by the mission he originally signed up for, and that he had no desire to carry out violence back in Europe.

"Most Western jihadists returning home, or contemplating doing so, now face governments that are increasingly hostile to them amid mounting security fears," said Ward. "As governments decide how best to deal with these jihadists, it is important to consider what motivates these men to leave Syria and to remember that they are in a unique position to deter other would-be jihadists who are considering traveling to Syria from doing so."