3 Australian orphans reportedly found in Syrian camp

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia's prime minister said on Monday he won't put officials in danger by retrieving three orphaned Australian children of a convicted terrorist who have reportedly been found in a Syrian refugee camp.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison's response to the plight of former Islamic State group fighter Khaled Sharrouf's children is the same as his government's reaction to other Australians who have joined the fight with extremist groups in Syria and want to come home.

"I'm not going to put one Australian life at risk to try and extract people from these dangerous situations," Morrison told reporters.

But security experts say that Australians can and should be safely brought home from Syrian refugee camps since the defeat of Islamic State forces.

Only three of Sharrouf's five children survived the conflict, Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported. They are 17-year-old Zaynab, Hoda, 16, and Humzeh, 8. The siblings fled the siege of Baghouz village in mid-March. Zaynab is pregnant and has her two children with her, Ayesha, 3, and Fatima, 2.

Their grandmother, Karen Nettleton, said she is particularly concerned for Zaynab, who is about to give birth in the squalid al-Hawl camp.

"Zaynab is seven-and-a half months pregnant; she's feeling very fatigued," Nettleton told ABC.

The siblings' father Khaled Sharrouf in 2017 was the first dual national to be stripped of Australian citizenship for actions contrary to his allegiance to Australia.

The Sydney-born man slipped out of Australia in 2013 on his brother's passport because his own had been canceled because of his conviction for his part in a thwarted terrorist attack plot in Australia. He was left with Lebanese citizenship.

Sharrouf horrified the world in 2014 when he posted on social media a photograph of his young son clutching the severed head of a Syrian soldier.

Then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry described that image as "one of the most disturbing, stomach-turning, grotesque photographs ever displayed."

Sharrouf's wife Tara Nettleton, with her five children, joined her husband in Syria in 2014. She died of medical complications in 2015.

Sharrouf and his two eldest sons Abdullah, 12, and Zarqawi, 11, were killed in an air strike near Raqqa, the Islamic State-group's stronghold in Syria, in August 2017, the ABC reported.

Save the Children Australia's Mat Tinkler said Australia should follow the lead of France, which recently repatriated five orphaned children from Syria.

"We seek to ensure Australian children trapped in Syria are not punished for the crimes of their parents," Tinkler said.

"It is entirely within the Australian government's power to bring these children home and we urge them to do so immediately," he added.