Australian prime minister says Islamic State extremists ‘aren’t fighting for God’ and are infatuated with death.
Daniel Hurst, political correspondent.
Prime minister Tony Abbott addressing the UN security council
Australia will not flinch in the campaign against terrorism, Tony Abbott has told the UN security council, as the government edges closer to joining the Iraq conflict and leaves the door open to action in Syria.
The prime minister said Islamic State (Isis) had effectively “declared war on the world” by declaring itself a caliphate.
But he told the meeting convened by the US president, Barack Obama, in New York that the world might be heading towards a “moral victory” with growing acceptance “that it can never be right to kill in the name of God”.
Obama said the resolution adopted by the security council required nations “to prevent and suppress the recruiting, organising, transporting or equipping of foreign terrorist fighters as well as the financing of their travel or activities”.
In a speech to the security council, Abbott referred to the shooting death of a person of interest to counter-terrorism police outside a Melbourne police station on Tuesday night, and last week’s large raids in Sydney.
“Last week, an Australian operative in Syria instructed his local network to conduct demonstration killings and this week an Australian terror suspect savagely attacked two policemen,” he said.
“Now, it’s hard to imagine that citizens of a pluralist democracy could have succumbed to such delusions yet clearly they have. The Australian government will be utterly unflinching towards anything that threatens our future as a free, fair and multicultural society, a beacon of hope and exemplar of unity in diversity.”
Abbott said thousands of misguided people from around the world were joining terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq “because they claim Islam is under threat and because they’re excited by the prospect of battle”.
“But whatever they think or say, these terrorists aren’t fighting for God or for religious faith. At the heart of every terrorist group is an infatuation with death. What else can explain the beheadings, crucifixions, mass execution, rapes and sexual slavery in every town and city that’s fallen to the terrorist movement now entrenched in eastern Syria and northern Iraq.
“A terrorist movement calling itself Islamic State insults Islam and it mocks the duties of a legitimate state towards its citizens. And to use this term is to dignify a death cult, a death cult that in declaring itself a caliphate has declared war on the world.”
Abbott said more than 60 Australians were believed to be fighting with Isis and Al-Nusra and “more than 60 Australians have had their passports suspended to prevent them from joining terrorist groups in the Middle East”.
He referred to the biggest overhaul of Australia’s counter-terrorism laws in a decade by saying the government was acting “to ensure that foreign fighters returning home can be arrested, prosecuted and jailed for a very long time indeed”.
“But we aren’t just dealing with potential terrorists at home, we are tackling their inspiration abroad,” Abbott said. “Our combat aircraft and special forces are now in the Middle East preparing to join the international coalition to disrupt and degrade [Isis] at the request of the Iraqi government.”
Abbott praised Obama for showing leadership in assembling a broad coalition, and said the participation of Middle Eastern countries in US-led air strikes in Syria was “the clearest possible demonstration that the west can’t solve this problem alone and won’t have to”.
“Our goal is not to change people but to protect them,” Abbott said. “It’s not to change governments, but to combat terrorism. Governments that don’t commit genocide against their own people, nor permit terrorism against ours – that is all we seek.”
Abbott said there were grounds for hope because the Isis horror had “generated all but universal revulsion” including condemnation from Muslim leaders.
“Perhaps the realisation is now dawning for all peoples, all cultures and all faiths that it can never be right to kill in the name of God and that would be a moral victory far surpassing any military success,” he said.
Australia has sent to the Middle East about 600 Australian defence force (ADF) members in anticipation of an imminent decision to participate in action against Isis in Iraq.
The expected commitment includes use of Australian Super Hornet combat aircraft against Isis targets in Iraq. Armed Australian military advisers would be sent into the headquarters of Iraqi and Kurdish security forces to help them with planning.
In a media conference after the UN meeting, Abbott left the door open to Australian participation in air strikes in Syria.
Abbott pointed to the participation of five Middle Eastern countries in air strikes in Syria, “which have been justified as I understand it on the doctrine of collective self-defence”.
“We are carefully considering the situation,” he said, without ruling out escalation of Australian involvement in the Middle Eastern conflicts.
“We have no intention at this point of seeking to enter into combat operations in Syria. We have no intention of independent combat operations on the ground in Iraq. We are prepared to be helpful.”
Asked about the willingness of Australians to support combat troops on the ground in Iraq, Abbott said: “There’s no doubt that the difficulties of the 2003 invasion of Iraq and its aftermath do cast a long shadow, rightly so. We should be very slow to reach out to conflicts thousands of miles away. This is very different from 2003. For one thing, this conflict for month has been reaching out to us. That’s why it’s important we do what we can at home and abroad to keep our people safe.”