Australian militants risk losing citizenship

Members of Jihadist group Hamza Abdualmuttalib train near Aleppo on July 19, 2012 Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
Image caption Australia is worried about the return of citizens who have been fighting in the Middle East

Up to 50 Australians fighting overseas with terror groups could lose their citizenship under new government rules.

The government will soon introduce legislation allowing it to strip dual citizens fighting in Iraq or Syria of their Australian citizenship.

People working in Australia to support terror groups would also be targeted by the changes.

Concern has been rising since mid-2014 about Australians fighting for the Islamic State militant group.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the legislation, due to come before parliament in June, was "all about combating terrorism".

"We face an increasing threat from those in our midst who would do us harm," Mr Abbott said at a press conference in Canberra on Tuesday.

Conflict zones

He said at least 100 Australians were fighting with terror groups in the Middle East, and as many as half of them had dual citizenship.

Another 150 people in Australia were known to be supporting such groups, while Australia's intelligence agency, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), was investigating about 400 high-priority terrorist cases.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption There has been a series of terror raids in Australian cities in recent months

"This could be the most serious national security challenge we face in our life time," Mr Abbott said.

Officials are worried about the effect on domestic security of people returning from conflict zones in the Middle East, as well as of those who support them and their activities.

Australia already has the power to confiscate the passports of people suspected of planning to go and fight overseas. About 100 passports have already been cancelled on national security grounds.

In recent months, there has been a series of raids in Australian cities of people suspected of being involved in terror activities.

Judicial review

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Australian welcomes new citizens every year on Australia Day, 26 January

Mr Abbott said the government would ensure no-one became stateless and that any decision to strip citizenship from an Australian would be subject to judicial review.

People convicted of terrorism offences, regardless of citizenship, would be jailed.

If they no longer had Australian citizenship, they would likely be deported, he said. But someone could lose their citizenship without being convicted of an offence.

The new laws will be based on overseas models, in particular those in the UK.

"Australia is not acting alone here and we are not ahead of the pack ... We have taken advice from our partners," Mr Abbott said.

The legislation might also hold ramifications for second-generation Australians because the government is looking at whether it would strip them of citizenship if they were entitled to citizenship of another country but did not actually have it.

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