By Paritosh Parasher
Melbourne: Once believed to be dead, Australia’s most wanted Islamist terrorist, Neil Prakash, whose father is a Fiji-Indian, is reported to have been arrested while trying to cross over from war-torn Syria into Turkey.
According to the government-owned Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), Prakash was arrested by Turkish officials when he tried to cross the Syrian border into Turkey using false documents and a fake name.
A confirmation of Neil Prakash’s arrest by the Australian government is still awaited.
Neil Prakash, also known as Abu Khaled al-Cambodi, has been presented as a key player in inspiring violent terrorism in Australia. A son of an absentee Fiji-Indian father and Cambodian mother, Neil Prakash was reportedly involved in foiled terror plots at Anzac Day commemorations in 2015 and 2016.
Australia’s Attorney-General George Brandis had described Neil Prakash as “Australia’s number one terrorist” and “most prominent and dangerous Australian” earlier this year.
While the Australian media is abuzz with the sensational news about the arrest of the 25-year-old Islamist terrorist since Friday afternoon, the government is yet to make a formal announcement.
“As a matter of longstanding practice, the Australian Government does not comment on matters of intelligence or law enforcement operations,” the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Counter-Terrorism, Michael Keenan, said in a statement.
“The Government’s capacity to confirm reports of deaths in either Syria or Iraq is limited. These places are war zones, with many ungoverned spaces.
“There have been people who have been reported dead and are later found to be alive,” the Minister told an Australian television channel.
The Australian government’s reluctance to make a formal statement about the arrest of Neil Prakash is attributed to the early announcement about him in May this year. The Australian media was told that the Indo-Cambodian Melburnian had been eliminated in a drone attack near Mosul.
It is being speculated now that Neil Prakash, who attended Melbourne’s controversial Al-Furqan Islamic Centre after converting, was only wounded in the May drone attack and carried on with his subversive activities. The injuries suffered in the air attack must have restricted Neil Prakash’s recruitment activities.
“I think the biggest scalp was earlier when we removed him from the battlefield, so to speak,” Charles Sturt University’s director of terror studies Levi West told ABC Friday.
“The fact that we now have potentially an extradition and trial is an additional benefit over the top of that.
“But the real victory is having removed his capacity to recruit and influence Western ears,” Levi West added.
It was Australia’s Attorney-General George Brandis, who had labeled Neil Prakash as “the most dangerous Australian”.
“Prakash was a very important, high-value target. He was the most dangerous Australian involved with ISIL in the Middle East,” Brandis told the ABC in May.
“He was actively involved both in recruitment and in encouraging domestic terrorist events in Australia; he was the principle Australian reaching back from the Middle East into Australia – and in particular into terrorist networks in both Melbourne and Sydney, encouraging lone wolf attacks and more sophisticated attacks. So he was the person of greatest concern to us,” Attorney General of Australia had said.
A number of Australian security experts have expressed relief over the arrest of the former apprentice mechanic from Melbourne.