Australian police have detained five men suspected of planning to sail a small boat from the far north of the country on to Indonesia and the Philippines and finally to Syria to join Islamic State, officials said on Wednesday (May 11).
The men were held on Tuesday after towing the seven-meter boat almost 3,000 km (1,865 miles) from Melbourne to Cairns in Queensland state, police said.
"There have been reports that seem to be downplaying this somewhat, I wanted to be perfectly clear, this is a serious attempt by five men who are of a security interest to us, who have had their passports canceled in attempting to exit Australia, so that they can make their way through boat and then, ultimately, we're investigating the intention to possibly end up in Syria to fight," Victoria state Deputy Police Commissioner Shane Patton told reporters in Melbourne.
Australia has come under criticism for its tough immigration policies aimed at stopping asylum seekers taking boats from Indonesia to Australia, but few are believed to have attempted the journey in the opposite direction.
Police said it was unclear where the men, aged between 21 and 33, had planned to put the boat in the water.
"We're investigating the allegation they were planning to make their way through Indonesia to the Philippines, with a view to ending up in Syria. Where they were going to get into the water? You know, the top of Australia is a very big place but somewhere up there," Patton added.
"It's not a common occurrence, I would suggest, people trying to get to Syria via boat, but I don't have the exact figures for sure. But we do know that a lot of people are trying to get to Syria to fight and so we continue to disrupt where we can."