SYDNEY, May 5, (Agencies): Australia’s most wanted Islamic State terror suspect, linked to several attacks on home soil, has been killed in a US air strike in Iraq, Canberra said on Thursday, warning others will be targeted.
The death of Neil Prakash is considered significant by Australian and US authorities because of his highly prominent and influential role as a senior recruiter for the jihadist group.
Attorney General George Brandis called him “the most dangerous Australian involved with ISIL in the Middle East”, using an acronym for the self-proclaimed Islamic State. He said Washington had told Canberra that Prakash died in Mosul, Iraq, on April 29 after Australia provided intelligence on his identity and location.
“Neil Prakash was a prominent ISIL member and a senior terrorist recruiter and attack facilitator,” he said in a joint statement with Defence Minister Marise Payne. “Prakash has been linked to several Australia-based attack plans and calls for lone-wolf attacks against the United States. He is considered to be Australia’s most prominent ISIL recruiter.”
Since the start of their campaign, the US military and its coalition partners have launched more than 12,000 air strikes against Islamic State and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said more Australians were in their sights. “Australians who think they can go to Syria and Iraq and fight with DAESH have to recognise that they will be targeted,” he told Sky News, referring to IS by another acronym.
“They are waging war against Australia and they are enemies of Australia once they choose to wage that war in those theatres.” US authorities also told the government that Australian woman Shadi Jabar Khalil Mohammad was killed in an air strike near the Syrian city of Al-Bab on April 22, along with her Sudanese husband.
“Mohammad and her husband, Abu Sa’ad al-Sudani, were both active recruiters of foreign fighters on behalf of ISIL, and had been inspiring attacks against Western interests,” said Brandis. She was the sister of Farhad Jabar, a 15-year-old who shot dead police employee Curtis Cheng in Sydney last October.
The teenager was killed in gunfire shortly afterwards. Prakash, who left Australia in 2013 and was known as Abu Khaled al-Cambodi, was linked to an alleged terror plot on Anzac Day last year, when Australia honours its war dead. He has also appeared in IS propaganda videos, including one last year calling for attacks on Australia.
“His death disrupts and degrades ISIL’s ability to recruit vulnerable people in our community to conduct terrorist acts,” added Brandis, who said that between 50 and 59 Australians had so far been killed fighting for jihadists in Iraq or Syria. At least 110 more are still battling with Islamic State. Australia has long been concerned about home-grown extremism and raised the terror threat alert level to high in September 2014.
At least six attacks have been foiled on Australian soil over the past 18 months, according to the government. But several have taken place, including the terrorlinked murder of Cheng. Meanwhile, the United States and its allies conducted 18 strikes against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria on Wednesday, the coalition leading the operations said.
In a statement released on Thursday, the Combined Joint Task Force said three strikes near Mar’a in Syria hit a logistics facility, a vehicle borne improvised explosive device facility and an ammunition storage center.
In Iraq, 15 strikes near seven cities hit tactical units and a weapons facility and destroyed tunnel entrances, rocket rails, a weapons cache and multiple fighting positions, among other targets, the statement said. Islamic State militants on Thursday captured the main Shaer gas field in eastern Syria in the first gain for the ultra hardline jihadists in the Palmyra desert area since they lost the ancient city in March, rebel sources and a monitor said.
Amaq, a news agency affiliated to the militants, said they had taken over the gas field area and its facility where Syrian troops were stationed and killed at least 30 soldiers and gained large caches of heavy weapons including tanks and missiles.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the militants seizure of the gas field area that lies roughly 150 kms (90 miles) northwest of Palmyra after a three-day assault. The militants were able to seize the area despite heavy aerial bombing to push them back, it said.
The militants had captured the gas field and nearby gas facilities in Homs province on several occasions but had lost it late in 2014 although they continued to attack government forces stationed in the area. Elsewhere, Turkish artillery fired into Islamic State-held territory in Syria on Thursday, killing four militants, in retaliation for cross-border rockets that wounded three Turks, security sources and media said.
Two rockets fired by Islamic State from Syria landed in a residential area of the town of Kilis earlier in the day, its mayor, Hasan Kara, said. One person was slightly wounded. Kilis, which stands on the Syrian border in southern Turkey, has been repeatedly targeted by Islamic State barrages which have killed 19 people since the start of the year.
The Turkish armed forces fired howitzers at two targets on the Syrian side, Dogan News Agency said, citing the military. NATO member Turkey, which is part of the US-led coalition fighting Islamic State, has routinely returned fire, destroying gun positions and killing 370 jihadists, the state-run Anadolu Agency said. In other news, Morocco’s Interior Ministry says a person suspected of ties with the Islamic State group in Libya has been arrested.
The ministry statement says the unidentified suspect had been wanted by authorities and was tied to a nine-member cell linked to the Libyan branch of IS dismantled on March 24. The suspect was arrested in Saidia, a northern coastal town near the Algerian border.