Australian Leader Makes No Promises on IS Man's Children
CANBERRA: Australia's prime minister said today he felt for the five children of an Australian convicted terrorist in the Islamic State movement who became notorious last year for posing for photographs while clutching the severed heads of Syrian victims.
But Prime Minister Tony Abbott would make no promises that his government would help repatriate the young family from the Middle East following the father's reported death, saying that keeping Australia safe was his first priority.
Reports that the children's Australian father Khaled Sharrouf, 33, and his Australian friend Mohamed Elomar, 30, had been killed in airstrikes have intensified calls from relatives for Australian help to bring the family home.
Contrary to initial media reports that the airstrikes were in the Islamic State-held city of Mosul in Iraq, authorities now suspect that the pair died in an attack on a motorcade in their adopted home of Raqqa in Syria, a government official said on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to release that information.
Sharrouf slipped out of Australia in late 2013 and his Muslim-convert wife, Tara Nettleton, followed him to Syria with their children soon after.
He used his brother's passport to leave because his own had been canceled due to his terrorism convictions. It's likely that his family's passports have also been cancelled on security grounds, stranding them in Syria.
Sharrouf's 7-year-old son horrified the world a year ago when he was photographed holding the severed head of a Syrian soldier by the hair. Sharrouf's eldest child was married to Elomar at the age of 13.
Australian police issued arrest warrants for Sharrouf and Elomar on terrorism offenses days after their photos with severed heads emerged.
Sharrouf, a former drug dealer with a history of mental illness, met his wife in high school.
Nettleton's Sydney-based mother Karen Nettleton said in a media statement late Tuesday that her daughter had "followed her heart and has paid an enormous price."
"My daughter has made the mistake of a lifetime," she said. "Today she is a parent alone in a foreign and vicious land looking after a widowed 14-year-old and four other young children."
"Mr. Abbott, I beg you, please help bring my child and grandchildren home," she said.
Asked if he felt for the children, Abbott told Nine Network television: "I suppose at one level, yes."
"But on the other hand, we have to appreciate the scale of the evil which has been practiced here, and that's the thing," Abbott said.