Australia bans travel to al-Raqqa province in Syria under new counterterrorism laws

Australia's foreign minister has 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.

Australia's Parliament passed a raft of legislation in October designed to make it easier to prosecute Australians who fight with militants in Syria and Iraq. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was given powers to designate regions as terrorist hotspots where travel was banned unless legitimate reasons can be proved.

She told Parliament on Thursday that al-Raqqa had become the first region in the world be subjected to such a travel ban. Going to or remaining in the province is an offense that carries a potential 10-year prison sentence.