Abdullah Elmir, from Bankstown in Sydney, has appeared in an Islamic State video under the nom de guerre ‘Abu Khaled from Australia’. The Ginger Jihadi: Bankstown teenager Abdullah Elmir. Photo: Supplied
A rescue mission to save 17-year-old Abdullah Elmir, dubbed the “Ginger Jihadi”, from joining Islamic State fighters in Iraq was abandoned at the last minute because of fears those involved may end up being charged under the federal government’s foreign incursion laws.
Abdullah ran away from his Bankstown home in June with his 16-year-old friend Feiz and became a poster boy for IS after appearing in a propaganda video that threatens Prime Minister Tony Abbott and was posted online last week.
The boys travelled from Sydney to Perth then Malaysia and Thailand and finally to Turkey from where they made contact with their worried families.
Relatives in Sydney and Abdullah’s father in Lebanon instructed a lawyer to assemble a team including an interpreter and a man from south-west Sydney who believed he had the contacts to be able to find Abdullah. They were to travel with Channel Seven’s Sunday Night program.
The trip was abandoned the day before they were due to fly out because of concerns that if they found him and offered him food and water – but they couldn’t convince him to return – the team members may end up being charged with giving assistance to a foreign fighter.
Mark Llewellyn, executive producer of Sunday Night, said: “Soon after Abdullah Elmir crossed into Syria we were approached by people concerned for him, and concerned for his family who were desperately worried for him, with good cause. It was felt that at this early stage before he had been trained and further radicalised, it might be possible for members of his Sydney Muslim community to negotiate his exit from IS – especially given his young age.”
Mr Llewellyn said they agreed to help in any lawful effort.
“During the process the family were placed under enormous pressure by several federal agencies not to talk or co-operate with the media,” Mr Llewellyn said.
“We were informed these warnings also included the local Muslim representatives who eventually pulled out of the rescue plan. They told us from the start there was a very short window of opportunity (before the end of Ramadan) to go and bring the boy home or else it would be too late and he would become radicalised and used. The video during the week was proof they spoke with knowledge.
“For the record, we did not offer or attempt to negotiate any story fee.”
An Australian Federal Police spokesman said, “It is not standard practice for the AFP to place contact restrictions on members of the public unless it is a condition of a court order.”
Feiz’s father, who had been overseas when his son left, found him and convinced him to travel with him to Lebanon where he was counselled. They returned to Sydney about eight weeks ago and Feiz is returning to normal life as a schoolboy.
Community leader Jamal Rifi has called on the authorities to provide earlier help for families and communities caught up in such situations.
He said the community was in uproar about what had happened and everyone wanted to do their best to bring the boys home.
“Something needs to be put in place so they can act early. But it seems to be uncharted territory for the authorities,” said Dr Rifi.
He has been critical of authorities reacting by taking away passports, saying it only serves to make angry people angrier.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.