SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia’s government is confident it has grounds to strip an alleged Islamic State recruiter of citizenship, a minister said on Wednesday, as questions arose over whether doing so could be illegal and leave the man stateless.
The case highlights the problems many governments face as they consider what action to take against people who have travelled abroad, often to the Middle East, to join militant groups.
Under Australian law, a person can only be stripped of their citizenship if they are dual citizens, thereby preventing people from being made stateless.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said Melbourne-born Neil Prakash, who is imprisoned in Turkey, was a dual citizen as he also has Fijian citizenship,.
Prakash ceased to be an Australian “by virtue of his actions in fighting for Islamic State from May 2016”, and he had been notified of the decision in December, Dutton said.
“The advice to the government based on all the intricate detail and fact of this particular matter is that Mr Prakash is, by operation of law, a citizen of Fiji,” Dutton told reporters in Brisbane.
“The other point to make is that Mr Prakash is sitting in a Turkish jail at the moment ... Prakash is not coming anywhere near our part of the world any time soon.”
Prakash has been in Turkey on trial for charges relating to being a member of the Islamic State militant group since being caught there in October 2016.
Australia believes Prakash is a dual national because his father was Fijian.
However, Fiji’s director of immigration, Nemani Vuniwaqa, told Reuters in a Facebook message that Prakash was not Fijian, which could complicate the Australian government’s bid to strip him of his citizenship.
Prakash can challenge the Australian government’s decision, Dutton said, and he could be entitled to retain his citizenship if he does not hold dual-citizenship status.
The government wrongly reported in 2016, based on U.S. intelligence, that Prakash had been killed in an air strike in Mosul, Iraq.
The government said he had appeared in Islamic State videos and magazines and had actively recruited Australian men, women and children, and encouraged acts of terrorism
He is also wanted in Australia over terrorism-related activities including a suspected plot to behead a police officer, though an Australian push for his extradition was rejected by Turkey in July.
A spokesman for the Fijian prime minister could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
Reporting by Swati Pandey; Additional reporting by Tom Westbrook and Alison Bevege; Editing by Paul Tait, Robert Birsel