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Regional nations unite to combat threat from extremists

Southeast Asian, Asia Pacific grouping warn of increasing threat posed by Islamic extremists

Regional nations unite to combat threat from extremists

Wiranto, Indonesia's Minister for Politics, Legal and Security Affairs, addresses a meeting between leaders of Southeast Asian and Asia Pacific countries. (Photo courtesy of the Coordinating Minister for Politic, Law and Security Affairs)

Southeast Asian and Asia Pacific nations have pledged to strengthen cooperation to counter extremists in the region.

The move is in response to the growing threat from groups professing loyalty to the so-called Islamic State (IS) that includes the terrorists involved in the Philippines' Marawi conflict. 

During a recent meeting co-hosted by Indonesia and Australia in Manado, North Sulawesi, ministers from Indonesia, Australia, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and New Zealand focused on developing and coordinating responses to threats posed by terrorist fighters operating in the region.

The countries agreed to crack down on cross-border terrorist activities by building and sharing information on foreign fighters, and strengthening ties to monitor the porous sea borders between the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.

"We cannot keep silent because terrorism has become a real threat to humanity," Wiranto Indonesia's minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs told reporters.

He said immigration procedures should also be strengthened to prevent militants from traveling in the region.

The meeting also discussed the issue of cyber security, as Wiranto said it was crucial that the six countries forged co-operation with messaging app providers and social media platforms to undermine the terrorists' ability to spread their propaganda.

The leaders also "agreed to enhance efforts and cooperation to address the root causes and underlying conditions of terrorism through countering violent extremism programs, such as strengthening social cohesion, education, women's empowerment, public awareness and economic development, as well as developing effective counter-narrative frameworks."

The meeting comes about a week after the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) said in a report that the conflict in Marawi — where more than 600 people have been killed — might lead to more violent attacks in the region's cities, including in Indonesia, where pro-IS cells have deep ties with Mindanado militants that date back decades.

"The risks won't end when [the Philippine] military declares victory," IPAC director, Sidney Jones said.

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Taufik Andrie, an Indonesian terrorism analyst said radicalized returnees from Syria and Iraq pose an enormous threat.

"They could contribute to capacity building, networking and persuading homegrown terrorist groups to support IS," he said.

He said even though returnees may not pose an immediate threat, they may do so two to three years from now.

He pointed to the "Afghan era" when fighters returned from Afghanistan to join homegrown groups such as Jemaah Islamiyah (JI).

"They were responsible for the Bali bombings in 2002 and the Australian embassy attack in 2004 in Jakarta," he said.

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