Fairfax Media can also reveal that police and security agencies have been sharing information about Adam Brookman’s activities in the Middle East with a view to charging the Melbourne nurse with serious criminal offences.
Mr Brookman has been in Syria since early last year, including in territory controlled by the terrorist organisation. He claims he was forced to work with IS after he travelled to Syria to do humanitarian work, and insists he never carried out an act of violence.
He revealed in May to Fairfax Media that he had fled IS, was hiding out in Turkey and wanted to come home.
He claims he was forced to join the terrorist group after being injured in an air strike and sent to a hospital that was under IS control.
However, Australian authorities are sceptical of some of Mr Brookman’s claims and will question him with a view to charging him under terrorist legislation that prohibits travelling to “declared areas,” or giving aid to terrorism.
Authorities consider Mr Brookman to be a supporter of extremist causes, including the creation of an Islamic caliphate, although gathering hard evidence about his activities abroad will be challenging for the AFP.
Fairfax Media can reveal that the deal Mr Brookman struck with authorities involved him handing himself in to authorities in Turkey and being arrested as he landed in Sydney.
In return, the Australian Federal Police agreed to facilitate his return to Australia, travelling with him on a plane and escorting him to AFP headquarters in Sydney upon his arrival.
Police will interview him in an attempt to gain evidence about his activities overseas and test his claims that he was an unwilling IS conscript.
It is likely police will also examine information gathered by Western intelligence agencies about Mr Brookman’s travel, associates, financial activity, communications and any conflict-related activities.
The return raises legal issues under Australia’s anti-terror laws, where the onus of proof has been reversed: if you have been in a declared area, you must prove that you were not fighting with Islamic State.
Monash University anti-terror expert Professor Greg Barton said if Brookman “comes clean” and hands over all his communications, Australian authorities “may well say that on balance of probability, his story is plausible, and we won’t prosecute”.
However, the issue is likely to become a political firestorm, with Prime Minister Tony Abbott saying in May that returnees should be feel the full force of the law.
“If you go and you seek to come back, as far as this government is concerned you will be arrested, you will be prosecuted and you will be jailed,” he said.
However, police may find it difficult to secure a prosecution. A well placed security source told Fairfax Media: “The problem is getting evidence to support our suspicions”.
It is understood Mr Brookman met radical Islamic figures during his travels in the Middle East. He appears to have avoided discussing his activities online, creating one Facebook page using an alias that described his location as Antarctica.
In a statement given exclusively to Fairfax Media, the AFP’s national manager for counter-terrorism Neil Gaughan said Mr Brookman was “subject to ongoing investigations” and that “at this stage” had not been charged.
“If there is evidence an Australian has committed a criminal offence under Australia law while involved in the conflict in Syria and Iraq, they will be charged and put before the courts.”
Mr Brookman’s AFP-facilitated return is likely to be welcomed by family members of the wife and children of Australia’s most notorious fighter, Khaled Sharrouf. They are attempting to negotiate with Australian authorities to return to Australia.
Mr Sharrouf was reportedly killed along with his friend, Mohamed Elomar, in a recent coalition air strike, although authorities have not been able to confirm his death.
In an exclusive interview with Fairfax Media in May, Mr Brookman, a father of five, denounced the slaughter of innocent civilians, including by crucifixion, in the war zone in Syria.
“I don’t agree with what they do at all,” he said at the time.
“I don’t agree with their kidnapping, with their dealings with other Muslim groups, and especially after they started executing journalists and other innocent civilians.”
“I never went there to fight, I went there as a nurse. I support the struggle of the Syrian people.”
Mr Brookman said he had no choice but to join IS after he was sent to a hospital under the control of the group.
“After I recovered they wouldn’t let me leave,” he said, saying the group’s members were suspicious of him until he resumed his medical work. “One you work, you get trusted,” he said.
Mr Brookman has insisted he never personally committed an act of violence, saying he avoided undertaking military training.
He said he had witnessed the aftermath of a crucifixion of a man suspected of spying for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
He said he “did not necessarily” oppose the punishment, saying his concern was whether the man was guilty.
“I agree with capital punishment . . . I don’t agree with innocent people being executed.”
Security sources are sceptical of aspects Mr Brookman’s story. Several other Melbourne men who travelled to Syria in 2012 and 2013 also claim to have been providing aid, but were lauded as fighters on online jihadist forums after their deaths. Some of these men had attended Preston mosque, and at least one visited a gym owned by relative of Mr Brookman.
The sources also say that by providing medical attention to wounded fighters, he may have been aiding terrorist groups.
Returning jihadists could face up to 25 years in prison if they have been found to have been fighting with a terror group, or found to have been in areas of Syria and Iraq banned under new anti-terror laws.
Mr Brookman was raised in regional Victoria and is a convert to Islam. He married into a devout Muslim family based in Melbourne’s northern suburbs and has several children.
He worked as a nurse in Victoria, and provided humanitarian aid, including at an Indonesian orphanage, before going to Syria.
His wife, who did not wish to be identified, said in May that her children needed their father, and she wanted him to return home.