Lukas Coch, AAP/AP
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott pauses as he speaks to the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, Wednesday, April 29, 2015.

Australia to revoke citizenship from people who engage with terrorists

Dual nationals who fight for terrorist groups or engage in terrorism-related conduct will automatically lose their Australian citizenship, under a new law.

In a new counter-terrorism measure, the Australian government will amend legislation Wednesday to strip Australian citizenship from anyone who has both Australian citizenship and that of a second country who are found to have engaged with terrorists.

The legislation will amend the Australian Citizenship Act 2007, which already strips dual nationals of their Australian citizenship if they serve in a foreign army or war with Australia. “The world has changed so our laws should change accordingly," Prime Minister Tony Abbott said in a statement.  

Announcing the citizenship updates, the government said it “intends to modernize the Australian Citizenship Act to enable the minister for immigration and border protection to take action in the national interest to revoke the Australian citizenship of dual citizens who engage in terrorism that betrays their allegiance to Australia. These powers would be used against dual citizens who join or support listed terrorist groups such as Daesh [the Islamic State], or engage in terrorist acts alone. They would apply to dual citizens who engage in terrorist activities here in Australia or on foreign soil, including that of our friends and allies.”

Last year, intelligence agencies said there were at least 60 Australians fighting alongside IS in Syria and Iraq, with around 100 more working in support roles within Australia.

“We want to ensure terrorists who are dual nationals are prevented from returning to Australia and dual nationals who engage in terrorism within Australia can be removed, where possible,” Mr. Abbott said.  

On Tuesday, there were reports that Australian intelligence agencies were attempting to verify the recent deaths of Australians Khaled Sharrouf and Mohamed Elomar in the Islamic State-held Iraqi city of Mosul, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said. Both men were made infamous last year when photographs were posted on social media of the men posing with the heads of Syrian government soldiers, Australia's ABC reported.

Last year, Abbott's administration proposed controversial anti-terror laws that would require Australians returning from certain conflict zones to prove they hadn't joined militant groups; expand police powers to arrest and detain suspects, secretly seize passports and search properties without advance warning; and allow intelligence agencies greater scope to access online communications, The Monitor reported.

The opposition Labor party and a number of smaller parties appear to likely support the law. Speaking to The Guardian, the shadow attorney general, Mark Dreyfus said, “Labor has said all along that we support updating section 35.”

The government will ask the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security to inquire into the law and report back to the parliament in early August. The new laws will not affect people who only have Australian citizenship. However, the prime minister promised the government would consider another review.  

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