A man alleged to have been a senior recruiter for the Islamic State and who is now under arrest in Turkey has told a Turkish court he joined the terrorist group while living in Cambodia.
Australian passport holder Neil Christopher Prakash, whose mother is Cambodian, was arrested in Turkey after fleeing Syria. He faces charges of terrorism.
According to The Guardian’s Australian-based website, for months after his arrest Mr Prakash told Turkish authorities he was a Cambodian national named Piseth Duong before admitting to his true identity in March and seeking Australian consular assistance.
He reportedly told Turkish police he was “the son of a Buddhist family and later I chose to become a Muslim while I was in Cambodia as a result of viewing videos posted by the Islamic State on the internet,” The Guardian reported.
Appearing in a Turkish court in July, he said: “If I must tell the facts, my real name is Neil Christopher Prakash. I want to remain in Turkey, I am a Muslim. I went to Syria to fight alongside the Islamic State. I stayed with them for a period of three years.
“I received two weeks of religious training. I taught myself how to use the Kalashnikov. They didn’t give me any training. I was present in the cities of al-Raqqa, Mosul and Membic.’’
It was also reported that he gave informal statements to Turkish police that he had married a Dutch woman in Syria and fathered two children, who he said were still in Syria.
The Guardian’s Australian website said the man grew up in Melbourne and his father was Fijian Indian and his mother Cambodian. He has been accused in Turkey of planning and encouraging Islamic State terrorist attacks on Australians.
Australia is reportedly giving consular help to the alleged senior Islamic State recruiter in the hope he will share intelligence on the terrorist group, an Australian federal minister has said.
He has been held in Turkey since escaping from Syria last October. Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has confirmed to Australian media that Mr Prakash has been receiving “basic” assistance from Australian consular officials.
Australia’s News Corp reported the consular help was given after Mr Prakash told Turkish authorities he has two children born during the fighting in Syria who may be entitled to Australian citizenship.
The Australian government is keen to gain intelligence from Mr Prakash on the Islamic State, Ms Bishop’s cabinet colleague Greg Hunt said yesterday.
“That’s our interest, precisely so as to protect Australians at home and abroad,” the Health Minister told Australian television’s Channel Seven.
Mr Prakash, who appeared in Islamic State propaganda material as one of its chief recruiters, was interviewed by Australian government officials in the months after his arrest near the Turkish border, the Guardian previously reported.
Australian Federal Police issued an arrest warrant for Mr Prakash in August 2015 after he was linked to an alleged plot to behead a Victorian police officer on Anzac Day.
Ms Bishop told News Corp that Turkish criminal proceedings would have to be concluded before any extradition to Australia took place.
“If he were surrendered to Australia I expect him to face prosecution for very serious offences,’’ she said.