SYDNEY: Canberra was Sunday attempting to verify whether an Australian Islamic State group fighter, notorious for being photographed with severed heads, had survived a drone attack after a report said he was still alive.
Australian media last week reported that two of the country’s most wanted IS jihadists, Khaled Sharrouf and Mohamed Elomar, were believed killed in a drone strike in Syria.
But highly classified photographs of the Predator strike have only confirmed the death of Elomar, with no indications that Sharrouf also perished, The Sunday Telegraph reported.
“He’s got nine lives,” an unnamed source told the newspaper. “It was a split-second thing.”
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has previously said his government had a “high degree of confidence” that Elomar had been killed in a coalition air strike but could not say the same for Sharrouf.
The Telegraph said the classified photos showed Elomar standing next to a vehicle which was part of a convoy of IS fighters in Syria.
Another image taken moments later showed an explosion as the convoy was hit by a missile, with a third image showing the debris left by the strike.
“Our security and intelligence agencies are working to verify reports that Khaled Sharrouf survived a coalition air strike which is believed to have killed Mohamed Elomar,” Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop said Sunday.
Sharrouf gained global infamy last year when he posted pictures on his Twitter account showing himself and his then seven-year-old, Sydney-raised son holding up the severed heads of slain Syrian soldiers.
In recent days the child’s grandmother, Karen Nettleton, has pleaded for the boy, and his four siblings, to be brought home to Australia.
Their mother, Tara Nettleton, took the children to Syria after a holiday in Malaysia in 2014. One of the five, 13-year-old Zaynab, is thought to have married Elomar while in Syria earlier this year.
The Sun-Herald said the girl had sent a text message to her grandmother in which she wrote “my husband got hit by a drone yesterday and got killed.”
Abbott, whose government has introduced new laws into to parliament to strip dual nationals linked to terrorism of their citizenship, said last week he felt for the children.
But he has also warned that if Nettleton, who converted to Islam and married Sharrouf 10 years ago, returned home she would face “significant consequences,” while not offering any help for her to do so.
About 120 Australians are believed fighting in Iraq and Syria, with some 30 believed to have been killed.