SYDNEY – Australia's government accused the Islamic State group of using foreign fighters as "cannon fodder," as the number of Australians killed while fighting alongside militants in Syria and Iraq rose to 20.
Australian Attorney General George Brandis said in a report published Tuesday that members of the Islamic State movement are tricking Westerners into believing they are playing a key part of a religious crusade.
"They are simply using them as frontline cannon fodder, suicide bombers and propaganda tools," Brandis told The Australian newspaper.
Twenty Australians have died in the conflict in Syria and Iraq, Brandis said, with several dying in recent weeks while fighting against government forces in the Syrian border town Kobani. Australia had previously put the death toll at 15.
"Australian youths, and many young men and women from Western countries, are being lured by the falsehood of a noble battle against an oppressive enemy," Brandis said. "In reality, they are merely taking part in acts of thoughtless violence — in many cases against innocent civilians — on behalf of ISIL, which is intent on recklessly enslaving, raping and murdering those with a contrary view to their own."
Last week, Australia used tough new counterterrorism laws to make it a criminal offense for Australians to travel to the Syrian province of al-Raqqa because of the Islamic State movement's hold on the war-ravaged region.
The government estimates at least 70 Australians are fighting with terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria.