73 passports cancelled over terrorism fears

The passports of 73 Australians have been cancelled because the government is concerned about fighters returning from the Middle East, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told Parliament on Monday.

The passports belong to people whom Australia’s security agencies are concerned want to travel to Iraq and Syria to fight with extremists.

Ms Bishop said the number of Australians fighting with extremists was also up from previous estimates of 60 to “at least 70”.

She dismissed suggestions that the government should let Australians who want to fight with extremists leave so they are out of Australia.

“First that would be a breach of our international obligations,” she said. “If they then work with [Islamic State] and train with these terrorist organisations they become more experienced, more skilled, more trained in terrorist tactics and strategies and they make contacts and networks that could be devastating.”

The Foreign minister cited the example of the Bali bombings that killed more than 200 people including 88 Australians.

“It is a fact that the terrorists responsible for the Bali bombings…did in fact train with Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan,” Ms Bishop said.

The cancellation of passports and the government’s plan to make it an offence for Australians to travel to conflict zones without a legitimate reason comes under the Foreign Fighters Bill that is set to be strengthened.

“The Foreign Fighters legislation will give me the authority to not only cancel passports but suspend them on a lower threshold, and it will be an offence to travel to declared areas in conflict zones without a legitimate purpose,” she said.

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