SYDNEY - Seven young suspected jihadists have been stopped from leaving Australia amid fears they planned to fight for terrorist groups in the Middle East, Prime Minister Tony Abbott revealed Thursday.
The government has been increasingly concerned about the flow of fighters to Iraq and Syria to join extremist organisations. Abbott said the allure of Islamic State and similar groups remained strong.
"We have stopped at the airport seven young Australians who were planning to travel to the Middle East, it seems, to join terrorist groups over there," he said, adding the incident "indicates the continuing allure of this death cult (Islamic State)".
The Sydney Daily Telegraph said five of the men all tried to leave through Sydney airport together, on a flight initially to Malaysia, on August 12, triggering an alert due to the sums of money they were carrying.
Citing an intelligence source, the report said some of the suspects were known to authorities and their passports were immediately suspended under new laws that came into effect this year.
Abbott would not confirm the details, calling it an "operational matter".
He praised the border force and counter-terrorism units at airports for doing their jobs in this "particularly important and significant way".
Canberra estimates there are some 120 Australians still fighting in Iraq and Syria, while at least 30 have been killed.
There are also believed to be about 160 sympathisers at home who send money to those fighting overseas and help drum up moral support.
Australia raised the country's terror threat level to high almost a year ago, and has conducted several counter-terrorism raids in various cities since then.
The government has also passed a number of national security laws and in June introduced legislation to strip dual nationals of their Australian citizenship for terrorism links.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said he was worried about the number of young Australians seeking to fight overseas.
"We are concerned about the number of people presenting at airports, particularly younger people, who might be seeking to travel overseas for reasons that would horrify Australians and their parents and family and community no doubt as well," he said.
Purchase this article for republication.