‘Ticking time bomb’: Videos of imprisoned Australian jihadists drip fed by Syrian media


Since its launch in April, it has published a number of pieces about the Islamic State’s likely resurgence in Syria as well as the interviews with Australian jihadists.


“My interpretation is it’s both an effort to put pressure on the Australian government and to make the international community aware north-eastern Syria hangs in the balance. If the American withdrawal goes ahead things will quickly deteriorate and Western forces need to take responsibility for their own nationals,” Professor Barton said.

The SDF, which controls north-east Syria, has reportedly detained up to 1000 foreign fighters from Western countries. But holding them is a burden for the de facto autonomous region, which has no formal judicial system.

Both the United States and US-backed Kurds have urged the Australian government to bring captured Islamic State fighters home to prosecute or rehabilitate them.

“It’s a ticking time bomb. The SDF have very scant resources and no certainty of how much control they will have of that area in the next few months,” Professor Barton said.

“They want to get these [jihadists] off their hands and away from a situation where they’re likely to go back into battle if the Turks come in or the Islamic State breaks people out of jail.”

Latest American intelligence reports say IS’s ideology is spreading “uncontested” in SDF camps with minimal security and the SDF lacks the capability to indefinitely detain thousands of fighters in “pop-up prisons”.

The whereabouts of Mr Yusuf and Mr Zahab, who is suspected of selling his Sydney home to fund the Islamic State, were unknown to the public prior to the North Press publication. Mr Elbaf, who left Sydney with his three brothers to join Islamic State in November 2014, was presumed dead.

The Elbaf brothers and their mother, Bassima. From left: Taha, Hamza, Bilal and Omar.

The Elbaf brothers and their mother, Bassima. From left: Taha, Hamza, Bilal and Omar.

“This could be [the Kurds’] attempt to put information into the public domain that Australian intelligence presumably has, but has not published because the government doesn’t wish it to be revealed,” Professor Barton said.


The government has repeatedly shut down calls to repatriate Islamic State fighters. A Department of Home Affairs spokesperson said “our policy remains to deal with foreign terrorist fighters as far from our shores as possible”.

Family friend of Mr Elbaf, Dr Jamal Rifi, said details about what he had done in Syria would only come out before the courts.

“There will be others who will pose a risk to Australia if released in Syria or Iraq. We are probably safer if they are brought back and assessed properly and imprisoned or monitored,” Dr Rifi said.

Natassia is a journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald.

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