Australia Arrests 2 Suspects Linked to Syria Militants

Australia Arrests 2 Suspects Linked to Syria Militants
Thu Nov 3, 2016 15:46:38

Police in Australia have arrested two individuals on charges of breaching the country’s laws on involvement in foreign conflicts by joining a terrorist group in war-torn Syria.

The two suspects, 24-year-old Mehmet Biber and an unnamed 17-year-old male, were taken into custody in Sydney early on Thursday after counter-terrorism police raided their homes.

Anti-terror forces also raided several other properties as part of an ongoing investigation into offenses of involvement in foreign conflicts.

According to Neil Gaughan, who is Australia’s Federal Police assistant commissioner for counter-terrorism, the investigation that led to the arrest of the two individuals had been a prolonged one as collecting evidence from Syria was “extremely difficult.”

Biber was charged with “incursions into foreign states with the intention of engaging in hostile activities” and, if convicted, could face up to 20 years in prison, Gaughan further said, addressing a press conference in Sydney.

Australian police say Biber went to Syria via Turkey in July 2013 to join the al-Nusra Front, which has recently renamed itself and claimed to have broken ranks with al-Qaeda. He returned to Australia six months later.

Australian police question one of two men (with blurred face) arrested on terror charges in a raid in the Sydney suburb of Birrong, Australia, November 3, 2016. (Photo by Reuters)

The teenage boy was also charged with attempting to travel to Syria in January 2015 to join the Takfiri ISIS terrorist group, playing “an active role” in encouraging others to do the same, which, if proven, could bring him a maximum penalty of life in prison.

The boy, however, was stopped by police before boarding a plane.

The pair has refused bail and is scheduled to reappear in court on December 15.

“It is very unfortunate that even though ISIS is losing significant ground over there that we still have people, particularly young people, that are attracted to the ideology and are still attempting to leave the country,” Gaughan, the Australian police official, said.

He said that some 110 Australians were believed to have traveled to Syria or Iraq in a bid to join terror groups, of whom around 60 have lost their lives. He said there are still people in Australia trying to join the militants, “but the numbers have slowed down significantly.”

Australia has introduced harsh penalties for those of its nationals who seek to join conflicts on foreign lands and those returning home from such conflicts.

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