Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Thursday used the killing of American journalist James Foley to bolster his government’s case for contentious counter terrorism reforms that have been rejected by some Islamic leaders.
Abbott described the video recorded beheading of Foley by a masked Islamic State extremist with an apparent English accent as “despicable.”
“The ISIL is as near to pure evil as we’re ever likely to find and there can be no compromise,” Abbott told reporters, referring to the al-Qaida splinter group leading Sunni militants in Iraq, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, now known as Islamic State.
“As for the apparent truth that the murderer was a British citizen, it just … goes to show this is not just something that happens elsewhere, it could happen in countries like Australia if we relax our vigilance against terrorism and potential terrorisms here on our shores,” he added.
Abbott said the killing was an example of why Australia needed news laws “to strengthen the powers of our security agencies to make it easier to detain and jail people who have been involved in terrorist activities overseas.”
The government estimates that 150 Australians have fought with radical militants in Syria and Iraq. It fears many will persist with terrorism if they return home.
Abbott has been meeting with Australian Islamic leaders this week in a bid to convince them of the need for a raft of proposed new measures to prevent Australian jihadists traveling to and from the battlefields of Iraq and Syria.
The most contentious proposed law, which will be introduced to Parliament within weeks, would make traveling to a terrorism hotbed a criminal offense without a valid reason such as visiting family. Critics argue that the law would effectively reverse the onus of proof under Australian law by requiring suspects to prove that they are not terrorists.
A few Muslim leaders boycotted a meeting with Abbott in the Victorian state capital of Melbourne on Wednesday, including the influential Islamic Council of Victoria’s secretary Ghaith Krayem, who dismissed the consultations as a “media stunt.”
More than 50 imams and Muslim organization leaders from across Australia signed a statement published on Thursday condemning the reforms as unjust.
“The primary basis of these laws is a trumped-up ‘threat’ from ‘radicalized’ Muslims returning from Iraq or Syria,” the statement said.
“There is no solid evidence to substantiate this threat. Rather, racist caricatures of Muslims as backward, prone to violence and inherently problematic are being exploited,” it added.
Silma Ihram, leader of the Australian Muslim Women’s Association who attended a consultation meeting with Abbott this week, said there was little detail provided of how the laws would work.
Ihram described the proposed prohibition of travel to designated terrorism areas as an unworkable imposition on Australians’ civil liberties.
“There are many conflict zones around the world, you’ve got Ukraine, you’ve got Africa — why is it the references are always to the Muslim community?” Ihram told Australian Broadcasting Corp. television.