180 Australians backing Islamic State group, says minister
WASHINGTON (AP) — Australia called Wednesday for a broader international coalition, led by the U.S., to combat the “terrifying challenge” of jihadist groups that are challenging governments and aiming to establish an Islamic caliphate in the Middle East.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said she’s “deeply troubled” by the way that foreign fighters are organizing. She said that 180 Australian citizens are known to be fighting with the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria or supporting it from Australia.
Bishop, who met Tuesday with the heads of U.S. security and intelligence agencies, said she gathered that there’s a similar number of American recruits. U.S. officials say about 150 Americans have gone or tried to go to Syria and Iraq to support extremist groups.
Australia is a close U.S. ally and currently has 600 personnel conducting air strikes and supporting Iraqi security forces — the second largest contribution to a U.S.-led military effort. Eight countries have conducted more than 1,000 airstrikes across Iraq in an effort to eradicate the Islamic State group, which now holds a third of both Iraq and Syria.
Bishop met Wednesday with Secretary of State John Kerry. Beforehand, she told the Brookings Institution, a think tank in Washington, that nations needed to join hands to counter the threat posed by jihadist groups promoting a “toxic Islamist ideology.”
She said that 80 countries, including China and Russia — often viewed as strategic rivals of the U.S. — have acknowledged they have citizens leaving to fight in the Middle East.
“I believe there has to be a significant coalition, again, as always, led by the United States, but with countries being prepared to step up and take their fair share of the burden to stem this terrifying challenge that we as nation-states currently face,” Bishop said.
“We’re all in this together,” she said.
Bishop said the military effort in Iraq had disrupted the Islamic State group, but there’s “a long way to go” to ensure Iraq can secure its citizens and territory from terrorist organizations. But she said she did not expect during her Washington visit that the U.S. would seek more Australian support for the Iraq effort.
AP Intelligence Writer Ken Dilanian contributed to this report.