A proud father’s boast accompanies an image the U.S. Secretary of State on Tuesday called “one of the most disturbing, stomach-turning, grotesque photographs ever.”
“That’s my boy,” wrote Khaled Sharrouf on Twitter, alongside a photo of his seven-year-old son using both hands to hold up a man’s severed head.
The photo, since removed from Twitter, was reportedly taken in Raqqa, a Syrian city in the stranglehold of Islamic militants, where the Australian father has taken his young family to join the fight.
Condemnation has been swift and on Tuesday included scathing criticism from Australia’s most senior Islamic cleric, Grand Mufti Ibrahim Abu Mohamed.
“It is utterly deplorable for extremists to use Islam as a cover for their crimes and atrocities,” Mohamed said in a statement to CNN from the Australian National Imams Council.
“Their misguided actions do not represent the overwhelming majority of Muslims who emulate the pure teachings of Islam such as justice, mercy and freedom.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the image underscored “the degree which ISIL is so far beyond the pale with respect to any standard that we judge even terrorist group.”
“That child should be in school, that child should be out learning about the future, that child should be playing with other kids, not holding a severed head and out in the field of combat,” he said.
Kerry was speaking at a joint news conference with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who also presented the image as evidence of the increasing threat of “homegrown terrorists.”
“There are a significant number of Australian citizens who are taking part in activities in Iraq and parts of Syria: Extremist activities, terrorist activities,” Bishop said.
“Our fear is that they will return home to Australia as hardened homegrown terrorists and seek to continue their work here in Australia.”
Who is Khaled Sharrouf?
Born in Australia in February 1981, Sharrouf is the son of Lebanese parents, who had a violent relationship with his father and spent most of his youth in and out of local courts.
Details of Sharrouf’s troubled teenage years were revealed in court documents from his sentencing in the New South Wales Supreme Court in 2009 on terror-related charges.
According to the documents, Sharrouf was expelled from school in Year 9 for violent conduct, and “was soon drawn into bad company.”
He appeared before the courts on a number of minor charges between 1995 and 1998, when he was also regularly taking amphetamines, LSD and ecstasy. The drugs were likely to have been a “significant factor” in the emergence of schizophrenia, the documents said.