CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Five young men have become the largest single group of suspected jihadis to attempt to leave Australia for Syria and Iraq. But they were stopped twice on consecutive days last week by counterterrorism officials at Sydney International Airport, a minister said Friday.
Officials believe the group is connected to another two men, in their late 20s and early 30s, who attempted to fly from the same airport on consecutive days at the weekend but were prevented on suspicion that they were would-be foreign fighters, Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton said.
The first group was first turned back on Wednesday last week. Officials discovered they were each carrying around 10,000 Australian dollars ($7,300) in cash, Dutton said.
Dutton declined to say whether any had been charged or taken into custody. He also would not say if any had had his passport canceled on security grounds.
Australian officials are concerned by the growing number of wanna-be foreign fighters who are attempting to leave Australia for the Middle East.
"This indicates the continuing allure of this death cult," Prime Minister Tony Abbott said, referring to the Islamic State movement. "It shows the importance of the most vigorous action at home and abroad to disrupt, degrade, to destroy this menace to the freedom and the security of the world."
Counterterrorism teams had prevented 336 suspected jihadis from leaving Australian airports in the year through June, Dutton said. Another 125 Australians had been grounded by having their passports canceled, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said.
"Allowing these people to go to foreign shores to be trained in the acts of terrorism mean that when these people return to Australia, they pose an even greater threat," Dutton said.
He said legislation to be introduced to Parliament in September that would allow foreign fighters who are dual nationals to be stripped of their Australian citizenship would also help prevent their return.
"We are concerned about the number of people presenting at airports, particularly younger people, who might be seeking to travel overseas for reasons that would horrify Australians and their parents and family and community, no doubt, as well," Dutton said.
Australia has posted counterterrorism units at all international airports since September last year in a bid to prevent jihadis traveling to the Middle East. But critics argue that Australia would be a safer place if they were allowed to go.