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Average age of young people going to fight for ISIS is getting lower, expert says -

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ELEANOR HALL: A Belgian expert on violent radicalisation says Australia needs to work harder to counter Islamic State propaganda.

Last week Australia's top intelligence agent said about 110 Australians are fighting overseas and that new recruits are younger than ever.

Professor of international relations at Belgium's Ghent University, Rik Coolsaet, is in Melbourne for a terrorism conference.

And he spoke to our reporter Simon Lauder.

RIK COOLSAET: In Australia, the share of Australians going to Syria and Iraq per capita is rather in the middle or I would say in the lower-middle of the Western averages.

SIMON LAUDER: What does it indicate about problems Australia may have at home?

RIK COOLSAET: What I have the impression from the European foreign fighters which might apply to the Australian ones is that you are facing part of a young generation which has the impression, the perception of having a future no stake in society, of having no prospects in society.

Not because they are poor, because they have the impression that they are not wanted, that they are not welcome, that they are looking for something else.

SIMON LAUDER: Yes, Australia's spy chief Duncan Lewis has also said that the age of Australian foreign fighters is getting younger - astonishingly young, he says. What does that indicate about what's going wrong in Australia?

RIK COOLSAET: The force of attraction to young people I would say between 18 and 24 is that whatever frustration that you have as an individual, whatever frustration you have as an adolescent, you have a catalogue of possibilities and options that IS is offering you.

You are looking for belonging, you are looking for respect, you are looking for adventure, you are looking for a villa with a pool, you're looking for a job - well we can offer you all this.

SIMON LAUDER: And how do you counter that. I mean why are young Australians falling for that? I would dare say that they've probably got much better prospects in Australia than if they go and fight in Syria or Iraq.

RIK COOLSAET: That's what we think. That's not what they are thinking.

So they are thinking that they have better prospects over there and that in order to convince them I think no de-radicalisation program will be successful if it a one-size-fits-all overall program. The only way of convincing individuals of not travelling over there is to do it on an individual-to-individual basis.

There is only, there is really the critical success factor of de-radicalisation programs if you are able to find a channel, a mentor, a coach, in which an individual who thinks about leaving put his trust and you can open up on this person-to-person basis, there is this possibility of deviating one's journey to Syria.

The key would be I think trying to recapture the attention on the one hand of this individual and then to try to make him clearly understand and feel that he has a stake in society, that whatever choices that he had to face in the past he has a choice of being part of this society. But this, it's very hard for authorities to do so.

SIMON LAUDER: The age of Australia's foreign fighters is getting younger. Does that mean that the propaganda of the Islamic State group is starting to fail - that older, more cluey people are seeing through it?

RIK COOLSAET: Well if you have foreign fighters returning and telling you the stories about what really is happening in Raqqa or in Mosul or, other places where you have this IS state in place, if you have this kind of return which are much more credible than whatever government might be saying - Australian or European government.

So the integrating or making it possible for returnees to avoid prison on the conditions that they have not committed crimes against humanity when being in Iraq or Syria, in order for them to speak out without fearing and facing prison, I mean that might be a good tactic.

SIMON LAUDER: So, punishing them and stripping them of their citizenship is the wrong way to go?

RIK COOLSAET: For the simple fact of going to Syria and Iraq I think this would be the wrong message.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Professor of international relations at Ghent University in Belgium, Rik Coolsaet, speaking to Simon Lauder at that terrorism conference in Melbourne.