Infamous Australian terrorist Khaled Sharrouf, who is believed to have been killed in Iraq on Friday, may have been targeted in an air strike months before his death.
The Federal Government is still trying to verify news that Sharrouf and fellow Islamic State fighter Mohamed Elomar were killed in a drone strike in Mosul last week.
Sydney barrister Charles Waterstreet, who is representing Sharrouf’s family, has told the ABC’s 7.30 that it was not the first attempt to kill the high-profile ISIS recruit.
“A car owned by Mr Sharrouf was shot by a rocket from a drone a couple of months ago,” Mr Waterstreet said.
“It contained a neighbour – it was a doctor and his wife and a child who died in the rocket launch.
“I suspect, personally … that it was meant for Mr Sharrouf.”
After the car was hit, Sharrouf and Elomar became concerned they were being targeted.
An Australian security official said Sharrouf was believed to have been a security co-ordinator for Islamic State’s leadership group, possibly even the group’s emir Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.
Peter Jennings, a terrorism expert at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said he doubted that Sharrouf and Elomar were specifically targeted.
“I’m sure that we shared data with the US and other coalition members on what we knew of these people, their back-history in Australia,” Mr Jennings said.
“But I don’t see how that would lead to real-time targeting, of being able to locate an individual in a car at a particular point in Mosul.”
The air strike that killed their neighbours left Sharrouf’s wife and children fearing their own lives were also at risk and made them even more desperate to get out of the war zone.
“All I can say is there was, in the words of AFP, increased chatter on the lines about the threat to the family and the family situation, and the family’s response to that threatening situation and the urgency for transportation out,” Mr Waterstreet said.
The precise details of the deaths of Sharrouf and Elomar are not known, but early on Friday US fighter jets flew from the USS Roosevelt in the Persian Gulf destined for Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria.
At the same time, Sharrouf and Elomar were travelling in the region.
It is believed that a vehicle carrying the two men was torn apart by a US air strike, killing them both.
Families ‘believe they are dead’
Authorities are still working to confirm their deaths, but the families, who would not talk to the media on Tuesday, believe they are dead.
Mr Waterstreet is helping Karen Nettleton, Sharrouf’s mother-in-law, to get her daughter, Tara, and the five children she had with Sharrouf back to Australia.
“Tara did not know, that when she left Australia and went to Malaysia, where she was going,” he said.
“She had another place told to her by her husband and so she ended up in Syria, in Turkey then Syria, not fully knowing where she was, so let’s get that straight.
“And the Federal Police have been told this by her mother, Karen.
“I’ve been trying to assist in getting the Government to assist them to get out of Syria.”
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says the return of Khaled Sharrouf’s family to Australia will only be considered after his death has been confirmed.
“Once those reports have been verified, then we can deal with other circumstances, including the children,” she told the Seven Network.
Sharrouf left Australia in 2013 to fight for Islamic State in the war in Syria. His wife and their children followed him soon after.
Sharrouf gained notoriety when photos were posted on the internet showing him, his seven-year-old son and Elomar holding up the severed heads of Syrian soldiers.
He has been accused of war crimes, including the execution of an Iraqi official.
“These two men are not martyrs,” Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said.
“They are criminal thugs who have been carrying out brutal terrorist attacks, putting people’s lives in danger.
“They boast of the brutality and violence they have been meting out to people, they boast of having sexual slaves.”