Turkey has the names of approximately 420 suspected Australian jihadists suspected to be travelling to fight with the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, on its “no entry” list.
Speaking to the ABC, a senior Turkish official also said the country wanted to extradite notorious jihadist Neil Prakash back to Australia to face trial.
Turkey’s “no entry” list is used to stop foreigners from entering Turkey, and is the result of intelligence from Turkey, Australia and more than 100 other countries.
It reveals international intelligence agencies have concerns about a significantly greater number of suspected Australian jihadists than previously known.
The evolution of the list is a window on the international effort to stop the flow of jihadists to Syria and a reflection of how those efforts initially lagged behind the flood of foreign fighters.
The number of Australians on the list grew from just 90 in 2014, with more than 180 added in 2015 and more than 150 added last year, according to a senior Turkish official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence-related matters.
As a result of the list, Turkey has deported 21 suspected Australian foreign fighters over the past two years, the official said.
Around half of them were sent back to Australia, but the rest were sent to other countries, underlining concern about the geographic spread of Australia’s suspected jihadists.
Most were deported in 2015 as Australian Government efforts to stop would-be fighters from travelling, including cancelling their passports, were still ramping up.
Turkey’s “no entry” list is part of an international counter-terrorism effort that began in 2010, grew in importance after the Syrian rebellion transformed into a civil war in 2011 and 2012, and gained real momentum after the Islamic State group seized swathes of Syria and Iraq in 2013 and 2014.
Australia’s Justice Minister Michael Keenan would not comment on details of the list but told the ABC Turkey is a “friend and ally”.
“We’ve got very good intelligence cooperation, so we will work with them to enhance their security,” he said.
“Where we have information that might be useful to them then we would certainly share it and obviously we would expect the same.”
That cooperation is proving even more crucial as the so-called caliphate collapses under attack from Iraqi government forces, western-backed militias and bombardment and IS members try to leave the conflict zone.
The most notorious Australian in Turkish custody is the IS recruiter, Neil Prakash. But a senior Turkish official has told the ABC two other Australians, detained in 2016, are also still in custody.
One of them has refused contact with Australian authorities. Further details could not be confirmed.
Prakash admits to being IS member
Turkey has begun proceedings to extradite Neil Prakash, based on allegations from Australian authorities who accuse him of violating a raft of counter-terror laws.
The ABC understands the alleged offences include “membership of a terrorist organisation”, “incursions into foreign countries with the intention of engaging in hostile activities”, and “recruiting persons to join organisations engaged in hostile activities against foreign governments”.
Crucially, in a statement made to Turkish investigators less than 16 hours after he was detained on October 24 last year, Prakash admits to being a member of IS and says he regrets joining them. Turkey is prosecuting him for being a member of a terrorist organisation.
In what could prove a breakthrough for Australian authorities the senior Turkish official said the prosecution is running in parallel to the extradition proceedings and Turkey would prefer for Prakash to be tried in Australia.
“The Turkish Government is very aware of our interest in this case. If we were to prosecute anybody for these crimes, and I won’t comment on the individual… the penalties in Australia are as severe as they can be — life imprisonment,” Mr Keenan said.
In Prakash’s statement, obtained by the Guardian newspaper, he maintains he is a Cambodian national.