Australia approves strikes against IS in Iraq

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Media captionTony Abbott explains why Australia is joining the mission against the "murderous rage of the ISIL death cult"

The Australian cabinet has given its approval for fighter jets to join the US-led military action against Islamic State targets in Iraq.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said IS was a "death cult" that had "declared war on the world" and must be stopped.

IS controls a broad swathe of territory, spanning a borderless stretch of Syria and Iraq.

The US-led coalition has been bombing IS targets in Iraq and Syria for the past two weeks.

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Image caption Australia has sent six war planes and 600 military personnel to the Middle East

On Thursday, the Turkish parliament backed a motion that could allow its military to enter Iraq and Syria to join the campaign.

IS militants have recently advanced close to the border with Turkey, prompting thousands of Kurdish refugees to cross the border. Turkey is already hosting more than a million Syrian refugees.

The UN says the militant Islamists have committed a "staggering array" of human rights abuses.

'Death cult'

In a widely anticipated statement, Mr Abbott said approving military force was "not a decision the government has taken lightly" but that "Iraq should not be alone" in its fight against the militants.

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Image caption At least 60 Australians are said to be fighting with extremist groups in Syria and northern Iraq

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He said the cabinet had also authorised the deployment of special forces to assist and advise the Iraqi military, with the action expected to continue for "months rather than weeks".

"Yes, it is a combat deployment, but it is an essentially humanitarian mission to protect the people of Iraq and ultimately the people of Australia from the murderous rage of the Isil (IS) death cult," he told reporters.

Mr Abbot said there were no immediate plans for Australian involvement to extend to Syria, nor for troops to be involved in combat on the ground.

Canberra has already sent 400 Air Force personnel, 200 special forces members and six warplanes to a US base in the United Arab Emirates.

The decision to join the military action - which did not need parliamentary approval - comes amid growing domestic concern about the number of Australians involved with IS.

The government believes at least 60 Australians are fighting with terror groups in the Middle East and at least 100 are actively supporting them from home.

Last month, police carried out raids on several addresses in Sydney sparked by intelligence reports that Islamist extremists were planning random killings in Australia. The raids, with at least 800 heavily armed officers, led to 15 arrests.

An 18-year-old terror suspect was shot dead last week after he stabbed two police officers in Melbourne. Abdul Numan Haider, originally from Afghanistan, had been summoned to a police station for a counter-terror interview because of concerns over his recent behaviour.

Images have also been published online which appeared to show the young son of an Australian ex-terror convict holding a Syrian's severed head.

Mr Abbott said at the time the image showed "just how barbaric" IS militants were.

What is Islamic State (IS)?

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Media captionIn 60 seconds: What does Islamic State want?
  • Formed out of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) in 2013, IS first captured Raqqa in eastern Syria
  • It captured parts of Iraq in June, including Mosul, and declared a "caliphate" in areas it controls in Syria and Iraq
  • Pursuing an extreme form of Sunni Islam, IS has persecuted non-Muslims such as Yazidis and Christians, as well as Shia Muslims, whom it regards as heretics
  • Known for its brutal tactics, including beheadings of soldiers, Western journalists and aid workers
  • The CIA says the group could have as many as 31,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria

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