The death of Neil Prakash – Australia’s most wanted terrorist – is a significant blow to Islamic State’s recruitment of Australians, the federal government says.
The Melbourne extremist had been a key player in inspiring violent terrorism in Australia. He was killed in a US airstrike in Iraq on Friday night.
Rumours of Prakash’s death first began in January, but it is now known that he was still alive up until last Friday, when the United States government said it killed him in an American airstrike.
Attorney-General George Brandis told Sky News that Australia cooperated with the US in relation to the identification and location of Prakash.
Senator Brandis said the death was significant in the fight against terrorism on home soil and in frustrating Islamic State recruitment.
“He was actively involved both in recruitment and in encouraging domestic terrorism in Australia,” Mr Brandis said.
“He was the principal Australian reaching back from the Middle East into Australia and in particular into terrorist networks in both Melbourne and Sydney.”
The US also confirmed it had killed the sister of Farhad Jabar, who killed police employee Curtis Cheng in Sydney last year.
Shadi Jabar Khalil Mohammad and her husband, who were IS members, died in an airstrike in al Bab, near Aleppo in Syria.
Prakash was reportedly involved in foiled terror plots on last year’s and this year’s Anzac Day commemorations.
He also apparently had some influence on Numan Haider, the 18-year-old who was killed after stabbing two police officers in Melbourne in 2014.
Levi West, the director of Terrorism Studies at Charles Sturt University, said that Prakash had stated that he knew Haider personally.
“So we know he’d had a role in the radicalisation broadly of Numan Haider.”
Associate Professor Rodger Shanahan, from the National Security College at the Australian National University, said the number of Australians attempting to fight with IS has been dwindling and Prakash’s death was a further blow to its cause.
He said it was likely IS would now portray Prakash as a martyr, but it would be unlikely to persuade Australians to join the group.
“Once he’s no longer alive and everybody knows that he’s been killed, he’s likely to be less influential in motivating people to joining the Islamic State, given that it’s led his death, as well as those about 50 other Australians.”
‘Unclear who will fill void left by Prakash’
ASIO told the government 50 to 59 Australians have now been killed fighting with Islamic State.
It is believed they include Sydney men Khaled Sharrouf, Mohamed Elomar and Mohammad Ali Baryalei.
Senator Brandis said ASIO advised him that there were still 110 Australian foreign fighters in Iraq or Syria.
Mr West said it is not clear who would fill the void left by Prakash.
“Within the open source information there’s not a lot of … Australians of substantive profiles, certainly not in the way Prakash was.”
Paul Maley, the national security editor of The Australian newspaper, has reported extensively on Prakash, and said the IS fighter once threatened him with beheading.
“He had a difficult upbringing, he was the son of a Cambodia and Fijian Indian migrants, he converted to Islam at the Al-Furqan centre, which was a hub for radical teaching down in Melbourne,” Maley said.
“So he embraced Islam quickly and he embraced Islam enthusiastically with all the fervour of a convert.
“It’s difficult to know exactly what it was that tipped him over, before that he was a lonely lost sort of a guy, he was a gang member, he had a problem with drugs, he was a failed hip hop artist – sort of on the fringes.
“So I think he was one of those people who all through his life was looking for something to belong to.”