Global push to outlaw terrorist supporters

Global push to outlaw terrorist supporters
United States President Barack Obama

United States President Barack Obama will make a personal push for tougher global action to stem the flow of foreign fighters joining militant group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), when he chairs a United Nations Security Council session this week.

He hopes, in particular, that the Security Council will adopt a resolution that compels countries to prosecute those who travel to link up with terror groups such as ISIS, or even those who help by raising funds.

The resolution is also expected to call for travel bans on these foreign fighters.

Australia introduced new anti-terrorism laws yesterday that would give the government and security forces authority to do much of what Mr Obama is proposing. Canberra, for instance, would be allowed to designate specific terrorism hot spots and arrest anyone who travels to these areas.

Britain also outlined new anti-terror measures earlier this month to seize the passports of terror suspects and stop British-born extremists from returning home.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said more restrictions could be introduced in future, adding that "the delicate balance between freedom and security may have to shift" in the face of the growing threat from ISIS.

The focus on the extremist threat is one of the highlights of what is becoming an especially busy UN General Assembly in New York, with global challenges such as climate change, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the Ukrainian crisis all due for an airing at the annual meetings.

If successful, the resolution, to be discussed at a session tomorrow afternoon in New York, will be a boost to the Obama plan against ISIS that is only starting to pick up steam.

Last week, a deeply divided US Congress came together to approve the President's plan to train and equip Syrian rebels, even if a significant number raised concerns that the US was lurching towards a new broad conflict in the Middle East.

Mr Obama also announced that about 40 countries have agreed to join a coalition to fight ISIS, including a handful ready to participate in air strikes.

The Central Intelligence Agency estimates that there are about 15,000 foreign fighters helping ISIS, including 2,000 Westerners.

There are growing reports of Asian nationals, among them Malaysians, Indonesians, Filipinos and a handful of Singaporeans, fighting alongside ISIS and other militant groups in Syria and Iraq.

While none of the Asian governments has introduced tough new anti-terror laws like those tabled by Australia, there are signs of growing concerns among senior officials.

Malaysia announced at the weekend that it would establish naval bases off the eastern coast of Sabah facing the Philippines in a bid to quell the threat of terror groups in the Sulu Sea. Sabah was the target of an invasion by militants from the Philippines last year.

The announcement came as a leader of the Abu Sayyaf, a terror group headquartered in the southern Philippines, caused a stir by openly declaring support for ISIS.

Weighing in with a stark warning, Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein was quoted in The Star newspaper saying: "If we are not careful, we may end up like Syria and Iraq."

This article was first published on September 23, 2014.
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