Australia warns of ‘regional IS caliphate’ ahead of meeting on terror threat

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Manado, Indonesia: Attorney-General George Brandis has warned of Islamic State’s desire to establish a “regional caliphate” and said the battle by pro-IS militants in the Philippines was of “great concern” ahead of a fast-tracked meeting of six countries.

Indonesia and Australia will co-host a summit on Saturday with four neighbouring countries to respond to the mounting terror threat posed to South-east Asia by IS.

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There will be “no discrimination” between Australian and non-Australian citizens fighting alongside Isis in the campaign to dismantle the caliphate, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says.

“Terrorist fighters returning from the conflict zone will have a greater capability and propensity for violence and pose a serious threat to the region,” Senator Brandis said.

According to Indonesia’s counter-terrorism unit Detachment 88, there were 510 identified Indonesian IS supporters in Syria and Iraq as of May.

Another 20 Indonesians are believed to be among the foreign fighters in the Philippines.

“[IS] has declared its desire to establish a regional caliphate and the evolving situation in the southern Philippines is of great concern,” Senator Brandis said.

A caliphate is a transnational territory under the leadership of a “commander of the [Islamic] faithful”.

The meeting – brought forward from August – comes as a new report warns of more violent attacks in South-east Asia following the unexpected success of pro-IS militants in the Philippines.

A cloud of debris rises as Philippine Air Force fighter jets bomb suspected locations of Islamist militants in Marawi ... A cloud of debris rises as Philippine Air Force fighter jets bomb suspected locations of Islamist militants in Marawi on June 9. Photo: AP

Ministers from the Philippines, Malaysia, New Zealand and Brunei will also attend the inaugural regional meeting on foreign fighters and cross-border terrorism in the Indonesian city of Manado.

The battle for Marawi is now entering its third month, with the Philippines military failing to retake the city.  

One of the suspected terrorists during the fatal attack in Jakarta in January 2016. One of the suspected terrorists during the fatal attack in Jakarta in January 2016. Photo: AP

Indonesian Chief Security Minister Wiranto said the countries would discuss how they could strengthen cooperation to fight IS activities in the southern Philippines and the Sulu Sea.

These included enhancing coordinated maritime patrols, bolstering cybersecurity, studying the activities of returned foreign fighters and cutting off logistics supplies to the combatants.

Indonesian students rally against violence following the January 2016 terrorist attacks. Indonesian students rally against violence following the January 2016 terrorist attacks. Photo: AP

“All of this will be discussed,” Mr Wiranto said. “All South-east Asian countries agree their territories can not be used as a new [IS] base.”

The Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict has warned the May 2017 siege of Marawi will have ramifications for the region long after the Philippines army takes back the city.

This image made from undated militant video appears to show shows Father Teresito Suganob, held hostage by Islamists in ... This image made from undated militant video appears to show shows Father Teresito Suganob, held hostage by Islamists in Marawi. Photo: AP

“Once the battle for Marawi is over, it is possible that South-east Asian [IS] leaders might encourage Indonesians to go after other targets, including foreigners or foreign institutions – especially if one of them comes back to lead the operations,” says the report, which was released last week.

It says Marawi has inspired young extremists around the region. “In Indonesia it has helped unite two feuding streams of the pro-[IS] movement, inspired lone wolf attacks and caused soul-searching among would-be terrorists about why they cannot manage to do anything as spectacular.”

Philippine marines walk to the frontline in Marawi in May. Fighting continues in the southern city. Philippine marines walk to the frontline in Marawi in May. Fighting continues in the southern city. Photo: AP

Some attacks against police in Indonesia in May and June have already been linked to the Philippines.

However the report says that while the Marawi battle had lifted the prestige of the Philippines fighters in the eyes of the main IS group in Iraq and Syria, it had not yet earned them the coveted status of wilayah or province of Islamic State.

An undated video shown to the Associated Press by the Philippine military shows Malaysian militant Mahmud bin Ahmad, who ... An undated video shown to the Associated Press by the Philippine military shows Malaysian militant Mahmud bin Ahmad, who reportedly died of wounds sustained in fighting in Marawi on June 7. Photo: AP

The report calls for an up-to-date watchlist of extremists across the region, a series of short courses for senior police investigators to produce a detailed map of cross-regional extremist links and a program to understand and prevent campus-based recruitment and funding.

Senator Brandis said the summit would discuss increased intelligence sharing to track terrorist movements, better intercepting threats at the border and strengthening laws to counter terrorism.

Militants bearing Islamic State insignia stand on an armoured vehicle in the Marawi area. Foreign fighters are among the ... Militants bearing Islamic State insignia stand on an armoured vehicle in the Marawi area. Foreign fighters are among the militants killed so far. Photo: Supplied

There would also be discussions on cybersecurity, including the challenges posed by the increased use of encrypted communications by terrorists.

Indonesia recently asked internet companies to block web versions of Telegram – which has been dubbed “the app of choice” for Islamic State members and supporters – and threatened to impose a total ban on the messaging app.

“We will also explore options to collaborate across the region to address terrorist use of the internet, undermining the ability of terrorists to spread propaganda and hate, and strengthening the voices of those who speak out against violence,” Senator Brandis said.

Mr Wiranto said Indonesia was well known for its effectiveness in tackling terrorism because it used a combination of hard and soft approaches.

“We use soft approaches such as providing training and deradicalisation,” Mr Wiranto said.

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