(CNSNews.com) – Secretary of State John Kerry reacted Tuesday to an online photo of a young Australian boy purportedly holding the decapitated head of a Syrian soldier.
Kerry called it “one of the most disturbing, stomach-turning, grotesque photographs ever displayed – this seven-year-old child holding a severed head out with pride and with the support and encouragement of a parent with brothers there.”
“That child should be in school, that child should be out learning about a future, that child should be playing with other kids, not holding a severed head and out in the field of combat.”
The boy is said to be the son of a known jihadist from Sydney, Khaled Sharrouf, who is now fighting in Syria and posted the picture on his Twitter feed with the caption, “that’s my boy!” Before Twitter suspended his feed, Sharrouf also posted photos of three young sons, holding firearms.
Traveling on a relative’s passport, Sharrouf took his four children and left Australia last year for Syria, where he is believed to be fighting with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS/ISIL).
Kerry was speaking in Sydney, after annual AUSMIN talks between the U.S. and Australian foreign and defense ministers. The meeting agenda included the issue of numerous countries' Muslim citizens fighting in Middle Eastern conflicts and then posing a threat on their return home.
The U.S. and Australia hope to rally world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly annual session next month to adopt a response to the problem.
“We are going to work together to assemble a compendium of the best practices in the world today regarding those foreign fighters, and we intend to join together in order to bring this to the United Nations meeting next month and put it on the agenda in a way that will elicit support from source countries as well as those countries of concern,” Kerry told reporters.
His Australian counterpart, Julie Bishop, called the phenomenon “an international problem.”
“The barbaric ideology that these extremists embrace is, in fact, a threat to our way of life, a threat to our values, and we discussed ways that we can bring this issue to international attention.”
Thousands of foreigners from dozens of countries, including European nations, Arab and Muslim countries, the United States, Australia and elsewhere are believed to be fighting with ISIS, the al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front and other Islamist factions involved in the Syrian civil war (and in ISIS’ case, in Iraq as well).
National Counterterrorism Center director Matthew Olsen said late last month the figure now exceeds 12,000 and continues to grow. He said they included 100 known Americans, but that the true figure of U.S. citizens involved was likely to be higher.
Al-Nusra last month released a video apparently showing a 22-year-old Florida man, named as Moner Mohammad Abu Salha, who the terrorist group said was one of four jihadists who carried out suicide bombings targeting Syrian forces in May.
Bishop said the issue of foreign fighters “truly poses one of the most significant threats that we’ve seen in a very long time” and was of concern to many countries across Southeast Asia and the world.
“We have evidence that there are a significant number of Australian citizens who are taking part in activities in Iraq and parts of Syria, extremist activities, terrorist activities. Our fear is that they will return home to Australia as hardened, homegrown terrorists and seek to continue their work here in Australia.”
Kerry said the president of a country in North Africa recently told them that 1,800 citizens were known to have traveled to Syria to fight.
Around 1,100 of them were known to have been killed, but “that leaves seven or eight hundred still out there that they fear are going to return to that country knowing how to fix an IED, knowing how to arm weapons, knowing how to explode a bomb, knowing how to build a suicide vest, or something like that.”
“We have a responsibility to take this to the United Nations and to the world, so that all countries involved take measures ahead of time to prevent the return of these fighters and the chaos and havoc that come with that,” he said.
A State Department document on the AUSMIN talks said the two governments would work together with the international community to address the risks posed by citizens returning to their home countries after fighting in the conflicts in Syria and Iraq.
“They will work together also in developing a set of established best practices for addressing this threat at the national level, including through legislation, border security, immigration and consular policies,” it said.