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Lawyer Hopeful Children Orphaned in ISIS Territory Can Return to Australia

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There may be hope for the children of an Islamic militant who died in Syria to return to Australia, says a lawyer for Karen Nettleton, the Australian grandmother undertaking an audacious attempt to rescue the orphaned kids from Syria.

Karen Nettleton is currently in Turkey trying to find a way to get the six children out of territory controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

Her daughter Tara Nettleton took her five children — aged between 5 and 14 — to Syria in 2014 to live with their father, Khaled Sharrouf, an Australian-born fighter with the radical Islamist group. The group has released propaganda photos showing the children posing with automatic weapons beside their father. One shocking image shows one of the boys holding up a severed head.

Both parents are believed to have died in Syria, while the eldest daughter, Zaynab, married and had a child with another militant, who has also since died.

Should Karen Nettleton succeed in retrieving her five grandchildren and great-grandchild, it is uncertain how they will be received by the Australian government, which stripped Sharrouf of his citizenship. A lawyer hired by the family, Charles Waterstreet, told the Sydney Morning Herald that the family has been coordinating with the Australian authorities, and suggested they would be welcomed back.

“The Australian government has a duty to assist them to get back. The baby will need to get papers,” Waterstreet said, referring to Zaynab’s child, who was born in Syria. “We have had nothing but co-operation from all federal departments.”

However, Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop said she would defer to law enforcement on whether the children could return, adding that Australia was only able to offer “very limited” assistance to nationals in Syria, where a civil war is now in its sixth year. “So it’s a very difficult situation. But we have been working with representatives of the family,” Bishop said.

[Sydney Morning Herald]

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Write to Simon Lewis at simon_daniel.lewis@timeasia.com