By John Stapleton.
Once labelled Australia’s most dangerous man, Neil Prakash was stripped of his Australian citizenship in 2018, amid considerable political theatre from the government. Lawyers and academics argued at the time that it was against the law to strip someone of their Australian citizenship if it left them stateless, and the current government appears to have accepted that argument.
The High Court in June struck down laws, introduced by the Abbott government n 2015, that allow dual citizens to be stripped of their Australian citizenship if they are suspected of engaging in terrorist activity overseas.
Australian authorities are now hailing his return from a Turkish prison as an “impressive accomplishment” after years of diplomatic wrangling. Concerns remain that as the most high profile Islamic State fighter to ever emerge from Australia, he will become an instant celebrity within Australia’s prison system.
William Stoltz, policy director at the Australian National University’s National Security College, said: “The persistence of Australia’s diplomatic corps, intelligence officials, and law enforcement agencies to achieve this extradition – seven years after his arrest in Turkey – is an impressive accomplishment.
Neil Prakash, 31, was arrested and flown to Australia on a chartered flight, arriving in Darwin on Friday, 2 December, 2022, after being deported by Turkish authorities.
The Australian-born Prakash has been serving a period of detention for terrorism offences in a Turkish prison.
He is presently scheduled to face a Darwin court where an application will be made to extradite him to Victoria, where he will be charged by the AFP Victorian Joint Counter Terrorism Team (JCTT).
“It shows that while engagement with governments like Turkey’s can be challenging for Australia, persistent, quiet diplomacy can yield results. Substantiating Prakash’s past movements and the precise extent of his support to Islamic State will be challenging for lawyers, given many of his actions took place in an overseas war zone.”
A spokesman for Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil has refused to comment on Mr Prakash’s case.
The story below was originally published in A Sense of Place Magazine in January, 2019.
Since October of 2016 Neil Prakash has been in a prison near Turkey’s southern border, accused of being a supporter of Islamic State.
As he appeared front and centre of some of the terror group’s most powerful and widely distributed propaganda, there isn’t too much doubt about the veracity of the allegations.
He featured in the Islamic State magazine Dabiq and in a number of promotional videos.
Neil Prakash has been credibly linked by security agencies to everything from plans to blow up America’s Statue of Liberty to plots for a Mother’s Day fun run massacre in Melbourne.
He was listed by the United Nations as providing financial support for terror and was placed on a US kill list after urging lone wolf attacks on America, as well as Australia.
Prakash was regarded as Australia’s most wanted and the nation’s primary recruiter for Islamic State.
Yet despite all the flurry, threats and government demonisation, there is something very Australian about Prakash’s story.
One might safely assume that ensconced in a Turkish prison cell his ability to ferment trouble is now severely limited.
Not the case.
An Ordinary Boy
In many ways Neil Prakash was an ordinary boy from a dysfunctional family, lashing out at the mainstream, angry at he knew not what.
He did not have an easy childhood.
His mother was a schizophrenic Cambodian migrant, his father a Fijian Indian he barely knew.
Prakash spent many of his formative years living in the garage of a friend. He ran with an Asian gang called the Springy Boys in Melbourne’s south-east.
Prakash’s unsuccessful early career as a rapper known as Kree Dafa, writing about sex and drugs, did not land him in a world of fast cars and flash cash.
A high school dropout, he worked for a short time as an apprentice mechanic.
After experimenting with Buddhism, he converted to Islam in 2012.
As has been demonstrated time and time again, the multicultural paradise of government mythology is on the ground often enough a story of children growing up with barely any community or family ties — and drifting straight into trouble.
Dr Clarke Jones, a prison radicalisation expert at the Australian National University, told A Sense of Place Magazine:
Prakash’s isolation or marginalisation, unable to connect or belong anywhere, have been a major influence on what has happened to him.
For him, as it has for many, joining in this extremely negative social circle was a way to find connection and meaning, a sense of purpose in life.
There have been all sorts of studies, psychological, scientific, demonstrating that lack of identity, belonging and connectedness is the major factor for radicalisation.
I am not a fan of incarceration for young offenders. It doesn’t help people find identity or a sense of belonging and makes the subjects fall out of society even more.
But Prakash appears to have done some terrible things and has been a major recruiter for Islamic State.
From that perspective he needs to face the music for his crimes.
Abu Khaled al-Cambodi
Adopting the nom de guerre Abu Khaled al-Cambodi, Neil Prakash became famous at exactly the same time as jihad chic was taking to the world’s fashion runways.
Considering the blood soaked catastrophes that have been visited on both sides of this divide, it may sound gauche. But there it is.
Humans. Go figure.
While Islamic State militants were shoving homosexuals off buildings and burning people alive, and while American bombs were killing citizens in the ancient cities of the Middle East, Mosul, Raqqa, Aleppo, jihad became cool.
And let’s face it, with his mix of Fijian and Cambodian ancestry, Neil Prakash did look smashing in his warrior garb.
But there was more to Prakash’s appeal than good looks and a charismatic presence.
In contrast to other Australian jihadists, those who have been given any media space at all, have appeared grubby, insane and cruel, as they masqueraded for the camera carrying decapitated heads and generally cursing the Land Down Under.
Prakash had a special appeal to the young, and two of the best known, now deceased, Australian would-be young jihadis, Jake Bilardi and Numan Haider, were both believed to have been influenced by Prakash.
Prakash travelled to Syria from Melbourne in early 2013 where Islamic State quickly saw his potential for helping to recruit foreign fighters.
On April 21, 2015 Islamic State, via its official media arm Al-Hayat, released a video featuring him.
Prakash provided an account of how he converted to Islam and called for lone wolf attacks in Australia. He praised the perpetrators of the terrorist incidents which had occurred in Australia in previous months and called on Australian Muslims to join forces with ISIS and kill the disbelievers.
You kill him [for] Allah has promised you a place in Paradise. Now Is The Time To Rise… Now Is The Time To Rush For That Reward That Allah Has Promised You.
In the 12-minute video, professionally produced and promoted by Islamic State, Prakash issued a call to arms to “my brothers, my beloved brothers in Islam in Australia”.
Now is the time to rise, now is the time to wake up … You must start attacking before they attack you.
Look how much [sic] of your sisters have been violated. All I hear on the news in Australia is this sister was hurt … her hijab was ripped off. But no, you see the brothers sitting.
I ask you brothers, when are you going to to rise up and attack them, for them attacking you?
I invite the Muslims to come here. I tell you that this is the land of life.
The media has portrayed that we come here because we were social outcasts, because we had nobody we had to turn to Islam, because we were just trouble-makers in the past. This is far from the reality. We see people from all walks of life here.
As part of the promotion Al-Cambodi was featured in the ISIS English-language magazine Dabiq.
Under a prominent picture , the Forward quoted “Allah’s messenger”, the infamous Al-Qaeda fighter Abū Mus’ab az-Zarqāwī, declaring:
We perform jihād so that Allah’s word becomes supreme and that the religion becomes completely for Allah. Everyone who opposes this goal or stands in the path of this goal is an enemy for us and a target for our swords, whatever his name may be and whatever his lineage may be.
The next month Prakash wrought havoc on travel in the Middle East, forcing three major airlines, Etihad, Lufthansa and Turkish Airlines, to ground planes after a bomb hoax on Twitter.
The two flights he mentioned were Etihad’s EY650 from Cairo to Abu Dhabi and “IST 1305.”
IST is the code for Istanbul’s international airport. Both Lufthansa and Turkish Airlines had flights departing from that airport, and both were turned back shortly after departure.
More than 450 passengers were directly affected, with delays at airports affecting many more.
While many of his contemporaries had already given their lives for jihad, Prakash was very much alive.
United States intelligence incorrectly claimed in May of 2016 that Prakash had been killed during a drone attack in Mosul in northern Iraq.
At the time then Attorney-General George Brandis revealed Australian authorities provided the US with information about Prakash, including his location within the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul.
He described Prakash as a “very important, high-value target” and the most dangerous Australian engaged with IS, having been actively involved in recruitment and encouraging domestic terrorism.
He was the principal Australian reaching back from the Middle East … in particular to the terrorist networks in both Melbourne and Sydney.
He was the person of greatest concern to us.
National Security editor at Rupert Murdoch’s broadsheet The Australian, Paul Maley, the first journalist to mention Neil Prakash by name, had been threatened with beheading.
Maley said there was an inevitable sense of relief.
I have no sympathy for him. I would never revel in the death of any man even one like Prakash, but the community is much safer without him. Neil Prakash had a tough life, but plenty of people have tough lives. He made terrible decisions.
He threw his lot in with the most evil terrorist group on Earth. He has done it freely. He has done it enthusiastically.
However vulnerable he may have been in his youth, he became a very dangerous and cynical man
I feel sympathy for his mother and the people who loved him. But I don’t have sympathy for him. The fact is that just as the community is safer, so am I.
Then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull also celebrated Prakash’s demise.
Neil Prakash’s death is a very, very positive development in the war against Daesh and the war against terror.
The sight of Australian authorities not just providing information to target one of their own citizens, but celebrating his death, set new ground.
The point of terror, of course, is to create fear in the population.
You rule by love or you rule by fear.
Islamic State chose fear.
America and its allies, including Australia, chose bombs, turning ancient Middle Eastern cities into ruins and leaving political chaos in their wake.
The intelligentsia of both countries railed against what they saw as counterproductive carnage.
Just as with the dying civilians of the Middle East, their voices went unheard.
Multi-billionaire media Rupert Murdoch, who controls 70% of the Australia’s tabloids, not to mention Fox News, assisted the military by rallying the population against the evils of extremists.
The military in turn propped up his newspapers with Defence Department supplements.
In other words, the public., through their taxes, paid for their own indoctrination.
Nowhere has the peculiar nexus between media, government, power, propaganda and the many conflicting ethical dilemmas involved with terror been as closely entwined, or as abused, as in Australia.
Although there has been no mass casualty event, the Great Southern Land, as Australia is often known, has passed more anti-terror legislation since 9/11 than any other country.
In a nation without a Bill of Rights, conservative governments have used terror as an excuse to greatly expand surveillance and oppression of the citizenry. In some of the most Orwellian legislation imaginable journalists are now Persons of Interest under national security legislation.
The Federal Government has also mercilessly beat the terror drum in order to frighten the population into supporting the incumbents, a crude mechanism which has failed.
If the polling proves correct, the current conservative government, deeply on the nose in the electorate, are about to face electoral oblivion.
A disengaged and ill-informed population had no idea that bombs paid for by their taxes were raining down on the mujahadeen, the elderly, the mothers and children of Iraq and Syria.
Oddly, rather than creating fear, the beating of the terror drum, encouraging the population to be afraid of the nation’s Muslim minority, created a kind of cognitive dissonance. It conflicted with another state creed, multiculturalism, upon which the government had spent billions of dollars convincing a sceptical population.
The news of Prakash’s death came as the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation announced that 50 Australians had been confirmed killed fighting for the Islamic State.
The figure is generally believed to be an underestimate and dozens more are thought to have died since.
Almost all of those who died did so anonymously.
The government, attempting to conceal the universal outrage within the Sunni Muslim minority over Australia’s support of America’s wars in the Middle East — and the resultant high number of young men prepared to travel to Iraq and Syria for jihad — has repeatedly refused to release the names of the dead.
But not with Prakash. The authorities made hay while they could.
After his detention at the Turkish border then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull declared that Prakash would be hauled back to Australia to face the full force of Australian law.
It was a dismal, idiotic piece of grandstanding typical of Turnbull’s failed Prime-Ministership.
If Prakash had been returned to Australia he would have achieved instant rock star status inside the prison system, a little like having Mick Jagger or Kurt Cobain turn up for your teenage band’s jam session in your parent’s garage.
With the issue of prisons acting as incubators for extremists now a worldwide concern, Prakash could have become a major focus for radicalisation both within and without.
Prison radicalisation expert at the Australian National University Dr Clarke Jones has just published a book Inmate Radicalisation and Recruitment in Prisons.
He told A Sense of Place Magazine that he believed inmate radicalisation in prisons was over-emphasised by governments for their own purposes and more often than not the money would be better spent in the broader community encouraging social integration.
But the case of Neil Prakash was different.
He is highly influential.
I have no doubt that with his role, position, die-hard proselytisation and experience he would be highly problematic in the Australian prison system.
Flagging in the polls and desperate to turn things around, in 2017 Malcolm Turnbull announced that the extradition process with Turkey was underway and Prakash would face justice in Australia within months.
Prakash was the subject of an Australian Federal Police arrest warrant for “membership of a terrorist organisation”, “advocating terrorism”, “providing support to a terrorist organisation” and “incursions into foreign countries with the intention of engaging in hostile activities”.
In various interviews Turnbull declared:
We are satisfied that Neil Prakash — who has been one of the key financiers or organisers in ISIL or Daesh, this barbaric terrorist group — he will be brought back to Australia and he will face the courts.
We should be getting him back within months.
We have an extradition treaty with Turkey. It’s just as well we do, because otherwise we wouldn’t be able to get him back and ensure that this man faces justice in Australia.
He is one of the most dangerous people in that region.
Neil Prakash should never, ever be released from custody, and I will do everything I can to ensure that he remains behind bars, full stop.
Well, it was not to be.
Turnbull had a lawyer’s glib verbal facility and suffered from an advocate’s casual acquaintance with reality.
Saying It Is So Doesn’t Make It So.
The Turkish courts had their own ideas.
The Kilis Court in southern Turkey rejected Australia’s call for extradition in July of 2018 in what the national broadcaster called a “shock ruling”.
In his verdict, Judge Ismail Deniz rejected the prosecutor’s request. saying the conditions for the extradition had not been made available to the court.
That sounds like a bureaucratic stuff-up.
When asked for his response by the court, Prakash reportedly launched into an attack on the judge in a mix of English, Arabic and Turkish.
Allah is the legislator, not him.
He is not a judge, he is the enemy of Allah and he will always be the enemy until he repents.
Democracy is not legitimate. Islam is justice.
Outside court, Prakash’s lawyer Mehmet Alper Unver told journalists there remained no obstacle to his client being released from jail, unless there was another charge or indictment against him.
At the time, and in contrast to Turnbull, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton declared that he would be happy to see Prakash “rot in jail in Turkey”.
Six months later, Dutton was repeating the sentiment that he does not want Prakash anywhere near Australia and as far as he is concerned the Islamic State’s poster boy can rot in jail.
On the 29 December, 2018 Neil Prakash was officially stripped of his Australian citizenship.
Using new legislation, the government argued that because he was a dual citizen, his father having been born in Fiji, it had the right to do so.
Fiji was having none of it, declaring that Prakash had never set foot in the South Pacific nation and never made an application to be a Fijian citizen.
With a dearth of other news and Australian politics even more deathly droll than usual, news that the country’s most famous jihadi was being stripped of his Australian citizenship made all the headlines and news bulletins over the Christmas New Year break.
So has the subsequent debacle.
One might have thought that with all the senior public servants and complex bureaucratic processes involved in the stripping of an individual’s citizenship, someone might have bothered to ring Fiji to ask them what they thought.
Normally a rusted on conservative supporter, The Australian’s columnist Greg Sheridan, declared:
The government has made a complete mess of the Neil Prakash citizenship revocation, in a case of such ballsed-up diplomacy that it is much more Monty Python than Yes Minister.
And There It Stands
Current Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is due to visit Fiji for three days from the 17th of this month.
Amidst all the stumbles and own-goals of a flailing government facing imminent defeat at the coming election, the issue of Neil Prakash will be front and centre of what is already turning into a diplomatic disaster.
Fiji’s director of immigration, Nemani Vuniwaqa, is adamant Prakash is not one of theirs.
I was not even approached by any kind of Australian government official, not by text or SMS message, or email or telephone.
Under Australian law a person cannot be stripped of their citizenship if it leaves them stateless.
But that, on the face of it, is exactly what has happened to Neil Prakash.
The Australian reports:
At the time of Prakash’s birth in 1991, the Fijian constitution stated that any person born to a Fijian father after 1987 automatically became a citizen of that country, regardless of where they were born.
But it is unclear whether subsequent constitutions and legislation put in place since then have nullified those citizenships.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton claims senior officials from security agencies and government departments carefully considered whether Neil Prakash was a foreign national before stripping the terrorist recruiter’s Australian citizenship.
Mr Prakash’s case was brought to my attention after careful consideration by the Citizenship Loss Board that Mr Prakash’s Australian citizenship had ceased by virtue of his actions in fighting for Islamic State from May 2016.
Neither the Citizenship Loss Board nor I make decisions on whether an individual ceases to be an Australian citizen, as the provisions operate automatically by virtue of a person’s conduct. The Government has been in close contact with the Government of Fiji since Mr Prakash was determined to have lost his citizenship.
Australia will continue our close co-operation with Fiji on this issue.
Neil Prakash remains in a Turkish prison. He has been informed that he is no longer an Australian citizen and has reportedly expressed a desire to be sent to a Muslim country.
A spokeswoman for Home Affairs Minister Mr Dutton says the government will not be making daily comment on the issue, the Minister had made himself very clear and nothing has changed.
Dr Clarke Jones told A Sense of Place Magazine it looks at the moment as if Prakash doesn’t hold Fijian citizenship and is an Australian citizen.
Legally I think the government is wrong. You can’t make someone stateless by law.
By making someone stateless you are not addressing the issue, you are making someone very dangerous.
I take a sympathetic position on younger offenders, but Neil Prakash is a dangerous person. He will remain a dangerous person.
He is in a Turkish prison, but how long he is detained is another story.
He would be highly problematic and difficult to manage, but it would be safer for him to be in an Australian correctional facility where he can’t get out.
This story was originally published on January 12, 2019.
John Stapleton is the editor of A Sense of Place Magazine. He worked as a news reporter on The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian for more than 20 years.
He is the author of Terror in Australia: Workers Paradise Lost.