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Picture of Australian boy displaying severed head in Syria sparks outrage

Austalian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. (AFP/Getty Images)

There’s no shortage of atrocities and carnage emanating from countries where the Islamic State operates. Thousands have been stranded on a desolate mountain to die. Hundreds have been executed — beheadings, crucifixions and stonings. But the picture that came out of Australia on Sunday may be perhaps the most grotesque of them all.

Tweeted out by Australian jihadist Khaled Sharrouf, who fled to Syria last year using his brother’s passport, it shows a young boy. He’s wearing a blue polo shirt, a baseball hat, sandals and plaid shorts. In his hands is what appears to be a severed head. According to the Australian, which broke the story, the boy’s father is Khaled Sharrouf, who wrote, “Thats my boy!” Another picture then shows Sharrouf, standing nearby his son. He too is holding a head. “What a head,” he wrote.

The image further rattled Australia’s government, which is planning tougher laws restricting residents from traveling to countries dominated by Islamic militants and last month said they would charge Sharrouf with terrorism if he returned to the country after he boasted of beheading “infidels” in Iraq and posted the grisly evidence to Twitter.

“The Australian government condemns in the strongest possible terms the horrific atrocities shown in these photos,” Attorney General George Brandis said, according to Sydney’s Daily Telegraph. “If real, these photos are evidence of serious crimes against Australian law and possible war crimes. … Any Australians involved in these serious crimes are not welcome in our country and the government will do everything possible to ensure that if they return, they are brought to justice.”

The story and the pictures shocked Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who said on Monday the images proves “just how barbaric” the Islamic State is. “What we’ve got to appreciate is that Islamic State … is not just a terrorist group,” he said. “It’s a terrorist army and they’re seeking not just a terrorist enclave but effectively a terrorist state.” He added: “And we see more and more evidence of just how barbaric this particular entity is.”

The alleged crimes are not Sharrouf’s first. He was convicted for his role in a 2005 Australian terrorist plot. According to Australia’s Federal Prosecution Service, the group “was committed to violent ‘jihad’ against those they perceived to be enemies of Islam.”

Sharrouf, found to be schizophrenic, got five years after pleading guilty to owning items connected to the organization. After he got out, the government banned him from leaving the country, but he fooled immigration with his brother’s passport to travel to Syria with his family.

Now Sharrouf claims he faked his mental illness to get a short prison sentence. “I played the government like ignorant children,” he said, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. “I was never mentally ill, not then, nor now.”

Psychological reports, however, suggested otherwise. “Mr. Sharrouf has a history of psychotic symptoms over the past few years and has been diagnosed to be suffering from schizophrenic illness,” according to medical records, the Australian reported.

Australian lawmakers said, after viewing the image, that they would consider additional anti-terror measures. “You see something like that you think ‘poor kid,'” said one, according to the Daily Mail. “That kid is the next generation and how many kids are being exposed to that?

Terrence McCoy covers poverty, inequality and social justice. He also writes about solutions to social problems.



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