The Federal Government is working to confirm reports that Australia’s most infamous terrorists, Khaled Sharrouf and Mohamed Elomar, have been killed while fighting with Islamic State in Iraq.
A person close to one of the men’s families told the ABC’s 7.30 the pair died in fighting in the city of Mosul, though that could not be immediately confirmed.
Another source close to the families said the pair died within the past week and that they were told Sharrouf and Elomar were killed by a drone strike.
Elomar’s body is believed to have been recovered but the remains of Sharrouf are missing.
The pair travelled to Syria and then Iraq in 2013, with Sharrouf using his brother’s passport to leave Australia.
Sharrouf and Elomar shot to global infamy last year when photos were posted online of them holding the severed heads of pro-Syrian government soldiers.
Sharrouf was also wanted by Australian authorities for his role in the suspected shooting execution of an Iraqi official outside Mosul.
Elomar’s postings on social media indicated he was a popular and influential figure among Australians who turned up to fight for Islamic State.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Australian officials were awaiting verification of the reports of their deaths.
“Our security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies will be working to verify these reports, but I stress it’s very difficult to gain the information necessary given that it is a war zone,” she said.
“Australians should not be there and again we stress that any Australian thinking of going to Syria or Iraq or to the Middle East to support Daesh, to support this brutal terrorist organisation, should not go.
“It’s an offence against Australian law and it’s adding to the misery and suffering of the people of Syria and Iraq and they’re putting their own lives in danger.”
If confirmed, their deaths would likely be greeted with relief by security agencies who believed both men continued to reach back to Australia to communicate with young, impressionable Muslims and convince them to travel to Syria and Iraq to fight under the Islamic State banner.
Australian police warrants were issued for both men last year, but they had long professed a desire to die on the battlefields of the Middle East and it was unlikely either would ever return to Australia to be arrested.
Early this year Sharrouf and Elomar were accused of enslaving women from the Yazidi religious minority in northern Iraq.
Deaths would be ‘significant blow’ to Islamic State
Dr Clarke Jones, a terrorism expert from the Australian National University, said if the reports were true, the deaths of Sharrouf and Elomar would be a “significant blow to Islamic State”.
He said they both played a fairly major role, particularly on social media by attracting people to Islamic State.
If the two men were confirmed dead, Dr Jones said it could make people angry and want to go and fight for Islamic State.
“But let’s hope it has more of a deterrent value in the sense that it will show young people that even the more experienced fighters and even the core of Islamic State are still in great jeopardy overseas in Syria and Iraq,” he told Lateline.
Dr Jones said Sharrouf’s wife Tara Nettleton had made inquiries on how she and their children could come back to Australia.
“And I suppose we should have more concern for the kids and trying to get them out of the conflict zone,” Dr Jones said.
“I know that one of Khaled Sharrouf’s young daughters, [a] 14-year-old, had married Mohamed Elomar, so these two do leave families behind and I suppose in one sense we have some sort of sympathy for the children, but in the atrocities they’ve committed overseas it’s very hard to have any sympathy for them whatsoever.”