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Australia lifts travel ban on former IS capital city of Raqqa

Xinhua,November 29, 2017 Adjust font size:

CANBERRA, Nov. 29 (Xinhua) -- The Syrian city of Raqqa is no longer under the control of Islamic State (IS) forces, Australian foreign minister confirmed on Wednesday, meaning Australians will no longer face criminal charges for travelling to the former "de-facto capital city" of the terrorist organization.

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, while laws were also passed stripping dual citizens of their Australian passports should they be found to be in the war-affected nations.

But speaking at a press conference on Wednesday morning, 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.

She 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.

"We have confirmation that the city of Raqqa in al-Raqqa province in Syria is no longer under the control of the terrorist organization IS as a result of military action taken by the anti-IS forces, backed up by the coalition forces, including Australia," Bishop told the press.

"This means that Australian citizens who travel to Raqqa will no longer be subject to the criminal code defences that made it an offence to travel to Raqqa without legitimate purpose.

"This is an important milestone in the fight against Islamic State, because the retaking of Raqqa deprives this terrorist organization 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 Dec. 5, 2014 and Nov. 28, 2017 would still face prosecution.

Meanwhile, Australia's Attorney-General George Brandis, who also spoke at the press conference, said that it was still illegal for Australians to travel to the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

"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," he 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". Enditem