Sharky Jama, an Australian male model of Somali descent, has reportedly died fighting for the so-called Islamic State (IS). Jama is one of dozens of Australians who have been joining the conflict in alarming numbers, despite harsh laws threatening life imprisonment for anyone who travels to Syria or Iraq to fight alongside the militants.
Dida Jama, the deceased's father, told SBS Radio's Somali language broadcaster that he received a text message and a phone call on Monday night saying that his son had died.
A spokesperson for Melbourne's Somali community who said he knew Jama's family for years said there were no warning signs that Jama had become radicalized before he left the country and joined the militant group, which is also referred to as ISIS.
"He was just a young man playing soccer and being at other activities and suddenly something happened and he went to Syria," Hussein Haraco told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "[It's] really shocking for the whole community and we are really confused."
"He was very friendly, cheery and professional," Stephen Bucknall from Jama's modeling company, FRM Management, told theAAP. "I got the news in New York just before Christmas that he had joined ISIS, and we took him offline immediately."
A woman who identified herself as 25-year-old Jama's cousin posted a tribute to him on social media on Thursday morning: "Rest in peace my handsome lil' cousin! All them beautiful memories and time we shared I shall keep dear to my heart. May Allah bless your soul and enter you [sic] jannat al firdows."
Jannat al firdows is the highest level of heaven is Islam, reserved for prophets, martyrs, and the most pious.
As of February, the Australian Security Intelligence Organization estimates that 90 Australians are currently fighting for jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq, 30 have returned and 20 have been killed.
Australian Foreign Fighters: Risks and Response, a report released by The Lowy Institute on Thursday, said that the Syria conflict has incited more Australians than any foreign conflict before it to take up arms.
"Several [Australians] have appeared in propaganda videos for Jabhat al-Nusra and IS, three are believed to have carried out suicide bombings, and some Australians are occupying leadership positions," wrote Andrew Zammit of the Global Counter Terrorism Research Center.
The report notes that relatively few Australians took part in conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan during the 1990s and 2000s, compared to other western countries, but that the number of Australian foreign fighters in Syria was relatively high.
The report also identified the need to focus on countering radical extremism efforts to combat radicalization, but noted that Australia's efforts had largely been behind those in Europe.
Australia's current government has had a strained relationship with Muslim communities. In his speech on the findings of a review into the Sydney siege in December, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said, "I've often heard Western leaders describe Islam as a 'religion of peace.' I wish more Muslim leaders would say that more often, and mean it."
This statement came despite 50 Muslim organizations releasing a joint statement condemning the deadly siege and in support of the hostages on the day it took place, and the Muslim community holding a national prayer vigil while the hostages were still inside the Lindt Café in Sydney's Martin Place. The community has even asked for help from the government to set up anti-radicalization measures. As recently as January, $13 million that the government had flagged for such programs remained unspent.
The prime minister's colleagues, including Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, seemed to contradict him on the day of his speech.
"I want to applaud members of our Muslim community here in Australia who are taking a stand against extremism and working with the government, with mosques and community groups to keep our people safe," she said in parliament.
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