Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has used the killing of American journalist James Foley to bolster his government's case for contentious counterterrorism reforms that have been rejected by some Islamic leaders.

Abbott on Thursday described the beheading of Foley by a masked Islamic State extremist with an apparent English accent as "despicable."

He told reporters the killing is 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."

Abbott has been meeting with Australian Islamic leaders this week in a bid to convince them of the need for proposed new measures. More than 50 imams and Muslim organization leaders signed a statement condemning the reforms.