Spy chief: Australians used by Islamists
AUSTRALIANS are becoming key players in the successful "social media wars" being waged from Iraq and Syria, increasingly acting as "English-language Islamic extremist propagandists", the country's spy chief has warned.
David Irvine, director-general of Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, said the bloody and often gruesome conflicts were creating a new generation of militants, "the scale and scope of which we have not seen elsewhere".
"The number of Australians who have sought to take part in the Syria and Iraq conflicts, or have sought to support extremists fighting there, is unprecedented," he said in a speech late on Tuesday.
Mr Irvine said what was particularly worrying was that many of the fluent English speakers were being used by the Islamic State to get their message out to a broad audience through graphic and highly emotive social media coverage.
"Syria and Iraq are social media wars," he said, adding that the use of Twitter and Facebook had brought the conflicts directly to Australians and others in a way no other war had.
"Extremists use this new media to disseminate their message, interactively bringing their gory barbarity back to Australia, with the aim of radicalising young Australians in real time as they sit at home or wait for buses and trains in the morning."
His comments follow the widespread coverage given this week to a picture of a seven-year-old Australian boy holding a severed head in Syria, with the image widely shared on Twitter and run on newspaper front pages in Australia and elsewhere.
The photo, posted on the Twitter account of the boy's father, Khaled Sharrouf - an Australian who fled to Syria last year and is now an Islamic State fighter - sparked outrage.
Another showed Sharrouf dressed in camouflage fatigues posing with three young boys, believed to be his sons, all holding guns in front of the flag of the Islamic State. Officials have said that up to 150 Australians are fighting alongside militants overseas, mostly in Iraq and Syria.