SYDNEY (Reuters) - The Australian government has stripped citizenship from a man it believes is a top recruiter for Islamic State, Australia’s home affairs minister said on Saturday.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said Melbourne-born Neil Prakash had been central to Islamic State’s efforts in the Middle East, was “a very dangerous individual” and had his citizenship stripped.
“If given the opportunity Mr Prakash would harm or kill Australians and our country is a safer place for him having lost his Australian citizenship,” Dutton said in a televised news conference.
Prakash has been in Turkey on trial for terrorism-related activities since being caught there in October 2016 after leaving Islamic State-controlled territory.
He is wanted in Australia over terrorism-related activities including an alleged plot to behead a police officer.
Under Australia’s citizenship laws, a dual national can lose their Australian citizenship if they act contrary to their allegiance to Australia by choosing to be involved in terrorism.
Islamic State was declared a terrorist organization in May 2016 for this purpose, the Home Affairs Office said in a statement, and Prakash is the 12th person to be stripped of citizenship so far.
Dutton said the law prevents the government from rendering somebody stateless so they must have Australian citizenship and citizenship of another country.
Prakash, whose mother was Cambodian and father was Fijian, held both Australian and Fijian citizenship through his father.
Dutton said Australia’s internal spy agency the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) had thwarted 14 attempted attacks including a plan to smuggle explosives onto an A380 flight to the Middle East.
“The threat is very real,” he said.
“The priority for us is to make sure that people like Neil Prakash don’t come back to Australia. We don’t want them here.”
Prakash has been notified of the decision by letter, and the Fijian government has also been notified, according to a source close to the Australian government.
Prakash has been linked to several Australia-based attack plans and has appeared in Islamic State videos and magazines. Australia says he actively recruited Australian men, women and children and encouraged acts of militancy.
Australia has been pressing Turkey to extradite Prakash since he was first detained, but the request was rejected in July. It will remain in place until the conclusion of his case and any custodial sentence, The Australian newspaper reported.
Canberra canceled Prakash’s passport in 2014 and announced financial sanctions in 2015, which cover anyone giving him financial assistance, with punishment of up to 10 years in jail.
(The story corrects reference in paragraph 10 to Australia’s internal spy agency, not Fiji’s)
Reporting by Alison Bevege; Editing by Leslie Adler