The Syrian city of Raqqa is no longer under the control of Islamic State (IS) forces, the Australian Foreign Minister confirmed on Wednesday, paving the way for the countrymen to travel there. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said while the travel ban had been lifted after coalition forces retook the city, both Syria and Iraq retained their “do not travel” warnings, Xinhua news agency reported. Australia’s Attorney-General George Brandis said that it was still illegal for Australians to travel to the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.
Bishop admitted the liberation of Raqqa was a “major step forward” in the fight against IS, but added that it was still an incredibly dangerous place to visit. Australians will no longer face criminal charges for traveling to the former “de-facto capital city” of the terrorist organisation. Travel to the city was made a crime by the Australian government in December 2014 to discourage possible extremists from joining the fight in the Middle East. Laws were also passed stripping dual citizens of their Australian passports should they be found to be in the war-affected nations.
“This is an important milestone in the fight against Islamic State because the retaking of Raqqa deprives this terrorist organisation of an operating base in Syria.” Bishop said while IS had been driven out of the city, the terror group “remains a dangerous threat”, hinting that factions would continue to emerge in other parts of the world, as it has in the Philippines. “IS is likely to emerge elsewhere, with its violent insurgency activities, and we will continue to be committed to the fight against (the group),” the Minister said.
The government added that those who traveled to Raqqa between December 5, 2014, and November 28, would still face prosecution. “Any Australian who travels to Mosul should know that they will be detected and they will be prosecuted, as five Australians are currently subject to prosecution,” Brandis said. According to the government, it “remains illegal for Australian citizens to… fight with any armed group in Syria or any terrorist organisation listed under Australian law”.