Tony Abbott has shut down any prospect of Australian foreign fighters being recruited to deradicalise youths.
Lawyers are seeking leniency from the government as they negotiate to return their clients who have been fighting with Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, arguing that they could help with preventing young Australians from turning into terrorists.
“If you go, and you seek to come back, as far as this government is concerned you will be arrested, you will be prosecuted and you will be jailed,” Mr Abbott told reporters in Sydney on Tuesday.
A Victorian man suspected of fighting with a terrorist group in Syria wants to return home and help police with intelligence and youth deradicalisation.
A lawyer representing the Australian is refusing to identify his client, saying only that he is a Victorian man who wants to return home.
“We’re trying to engage the federal police particularly, in a program that might see him benefit the community here, both in terms of deradicalisation and probably intelligence,” Rob Stary told 3AW radio.
At least three Australians suspected of fighting with terrorist groups in Syria are believed to be in secret negotiations with the federal government to return home, The Australian newspaper reports.
Talks have stalled amid concerns from the fighters over what punishment they would face and fears by authorities that they may pose a terror risk here.
Peter Jennings, executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said he doubted whether the Australians would be of value in terms of intelligence but there were other benefits.
“Where I think they would be valuable is in the deradicalisation process back in Australia,” Mr Jennings told AAP.
“They could puncture the mythology.”
Such measures were needed to stop young men joining the extremist group, with well over 100 Australians now fighting alongside IS.
“We are seeing a big spike up of 17- and 18-year-olds – for a certain group of kids this is now cool,” Mr Jennings said.
The returned foreign fighters would still need to go through the courts, but their knowledge would be valuable in telling young men about the IS culture of violence, sexual slavery and brainwashing.
In the short-term, the men seeking to return to Australia might be in danger of being killed if the IS leadership identifies them.
Mr Stary said police had rejected his proposal.
“They don’t want to be part of it. They say, `If he comes back we will charge him. He’ll face the full force of the law’,” he said.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said he would seek a briefing from the government on the matter.
An online news.com poll shows 93 per cent of 18,000 respondents don’t believe the trio should be allowed to return to Australia.
The Australian Federal Police is aware of a small number of Australians who have made approaches to return from the Syria and Iraq conflict zone.
“As these matters form part of ongoing investigations, the AFP is not in a position to provide further comment,” it said in a statement.