Children of Australian jihadists that participate in terrorism will be treated the same as other juvenile offenders, says PM Tony Abbott

Mr Abbott was responding to news that the mother of a seven-year-old boy photographed holding the severed head of a Syrian soldier, wants to bring her family back to Sydney

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A seven-year-old Australian boy who horrified the world a year ago when he was photographed holding the severed head of a Syrian soldier by the hair has created a quandary for the government, which wants to make scores of Australian fighters in the Middle East someone else’s problem by revoking their citizenship.

News that the boy’s mother has had enough of the horrors of Syria and wants to bring her five children back home to Sydney has prompted questions about how governments should protect their own citizens and how they draw the line between terrorists and their victims.

Sydney-born convicted terrorist Khaled Sharrouf posted a photo on his Twitter account from Syria of his youngest son with his extended arms straining under the weight of the gruesome trophy.

The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, described the image as “one of the most disturbing, stomach-turning, grotesque photographs ever displayed”. Sharrouf also posted a photograph of his three sons posing with him in matching camouflage fatigues and armed with assault rifles and a pistol with an Isis flag as a backdrop.

Fairfax Media newspapers reported that the Australian family of Sharrouf’s Muslim-convert wife, Tara Nettleton, was trying to help her bring her three young boys and two teenage daughters to Sydney.

Asked about the family, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said if the children had committed a crime, they would be treated by the Australian courts the same way as other juvenile offenders.

“To participate in the kind of barbarism that we have seen so often in the Middle East is just wrong. It’s morally wrong and it’s a crime under Australian law and it will be punished,” he told reporters.

Police have confirmed Sharrouf faces arrest in Australia on terrorism offences.

Ms Nettleton took their children to Syria to reunite with her husband, flying with round-trip tickets for Malaysia to hide their intended destination. Australia used new counter-terrorism laws in December to make visiting Isis’s stronghold of ar-Raqqa in Syria a criminal offence punishable by 10 years in prison.