CANBERRA, Australia – Counterterrorism squads have prevented 200 suspected jihadis from departing Australian airports for the Middle East including at least three teenage boys this month, officials said on Wednesday.
Officials had previously announced that two Sydney-born brothers, aged 16 and 17, had been intercepted at Sydney International Airport on March 8 attempting to board a flight for Turkey without their parents' knowledge. The siblings were returned to their families and were to be charged.
Within a week, a 17-year-old boy was intercepted at the same airport on suspicion that he was headed for a Middle Eastern battle, Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton said Wednesday.
The boy had also been returned to his family, but remained under investigation, Dutton said.
Since counterterrorism units were attached to eight Australian airports in August, 85,000 travelers had been questioned and 200 people had been prevented from flying on suspicion that they were headed for the battlefields of Iraq and Syria to fight with groups including Islamic State, Dutton said.
Experts disagree about why Islamic State had been so effective recruiting in Australia, which is widely regarded as a multicultural success story, with an economy in an enviable 24th year of continuous growth.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott said his government was investing more on border security and on countering extremism.
"It is absolutely critical that the people of Australia appreciate that the death cult is reaching out to vulnerable and impressionable young people," he said, referring to the Islamic State movement." The death cult is reaching out, seeking effectively to brain wash people online."