Islamic State recruiter Neil Prakash, whose Cambodian mother migrated to Australia as a refugee, has reportedly turned up alive in Turkey, six months after officials declared the wanted terrorist dead in Iraq.
Considered Australia’s most prominent I.S. propagandist, Mr. Prakash has appeared in a series of recruitment videos describing a visit to Cambodia and cutting ties from his Buddhist roots to join the militant group’s cause.
Mr. Prakash, also known as Abu Khaled al-Cambodi, left Australia for Syria in 2013 and has previously been linked to several Australia-based attack plans, and also called for lone-wolf attacks against the U.S.
According to media reports on Friday, Mr. Prakash, who is in his early 20s, was arrested several weeks ago by Turkish officials after they received information from Australian authorities that he was planning to enter the country.
Michael Keenan, Australia’s minister assisting the prime minister for counterterrorism, said unreliable information coming out of Iraq meant reports of terrorists killed there have at times proved erroneous.
“These places are war zones, with many ungoverned spaces,” he said in a statement.
Mr. Prakash, who was raised in the city of Melbourne, has appeared in a series of slickly produced propaganda videos, including one released last year in which he describes his conversion from Buddhism to Islam.
“My journey started when one day one brother said to me, he said, ‘What religion are you?’ I said, ‘I’m a Buddhist, but I believe, you know, there is a god, a deity.’ He goes, ‘You’re not a Buddhist then because,’ he goes, ‘you’re confused,’” Mr. Prakash says in the video.
“Thoughts were telling me, ‘Why don’t you leave your religion and enter Islam?’ But then other thoughts would come to me and say ‘Would you leave the religion of your forefathers to follow something that is new, that is strange?’”
During the 12-minute clip, Mr. Prakash explains how he felt at odds with Buddhism after visiting Cambodia with his family for the first time as a 20-year-old.
“I saw people praying, crying toward statues, giving money to statues, depending on statues and I actually saw the meaning of what this religion was and it didn’t make any sense to me,” he says.
“I was very confused and very upset at the time and I asked my mum, I go, ‘How are we doing this and how does it make any sense?’ She said, ‘This is what we know.’”
In the same video, Mr. Prakash appeals to his “brothers” to join him and calls for attacks on Australian soil.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak declined yesterday to say whether Cambodian authorities had investigated Mr. Prakash’s potential links to the country or provided information to foreign states and territories.
An Australian government statement in May said Mr. Prakash had been killed by a U.S. airstrike in Mosul on April 29.
“Neil Prakash was a prominent ISIL member and a senior terrorist recruiter and attack facilitator,” the statement said, using another name for I.S. “His death disrupts and degrades ISIL’s ability to recruit vulnerable people in our community to conduct terrorist acts.”