Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has warned that young Australian women are increasingly at risk of being groomed by Islamic State to become “jihadi brides”.
It’s understood as many as 40 Australian women had either travelled to the Middle East to join IS, or are engaging in or supporting terrorist activity in Syria, Iraq or Australia.
“Sadly we are seeing a younger cohort seeking to join the conflict in Syria and Iraq and an increasing number of young females,” Ms Bishop told parliament on Wednesday.
“This defies logic. Family and friends need to reach out to young people at risk before it’s too late.”
The comments come after ASIO director-general Duncan Lewis confirmed dozens of young Australian women had either gone or contemplated going as so-called “jihadi brides”.
“There are 30 to 40 women that are involved in this cohort that we know of, some of whom have been stopped, some of whom have been successful in getting offshore,” he told a Senate estimates hearing on Tuesday evening.
Mr Lewis also confirmed the overwhelming majority of Australians who had returned home after fighting in Syria and Iraq did so more than two years ago.
“I can say that the vast majority of those 30 returned to Australia before there was even an ISIL (also known as IS), before the caliphate was declared,” Mr Lewis said.
Some had been fighting for different sides in the Syrian civil war.
Mr Lewis refused to detail the breakdown of numbers in terms of those who had returned in the past two years.
The 30 who had returned presented varying degrees of threat to the community, and were included in a “matrix” that evaluates and prioritises the seriousness of the cases.
“We do not have a watchlist as such,” Mr Lewis said.
“We manage … the threat that is presented and the prioritising of that threat and then the attention that is given to that particular threat.”
The increase in women joining or supporting IS was a “relatively recent phenomenon”.
It has been reported that some of the women were fighting for Islamic State, but that others were being traded as sex slaves in Syria and Iraq.
Two weeks ago, it was reported several Australian women who had gone to Syria had now become slaves of the terrorist group after their partners were killed.
Ms Bishop cited the case of 22-year-old Amira Karroum who left her Sydney home just before Christmas and died in fighting in Syria.
“Her death was not martyrdom, it was a tragic senseless loss,” she said.