ISIS fighters from region 'pose security threat to South-east Asia'

THE hundreds of radicalised individuals from the region fighting for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) present a "daunting precedent" that threatens the overall security of South-east Asia, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott warned yesterday.

This is why countries have to step up their game, rather than just hope for the best - or for someone else to do the heavy lifting, he said at the 35th Singapore Lecture at the Shangri-La Hotel.

Mr Abbott's remarks came after he and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong earlier witnessed the signing of an agreement at the Istana that will enable both countries to co-operate more closely to neutralise the global terror threat.

Australia's experience so far illustrates the gravity of the situation, he said at the lecture.

About 120 Australians are fighting in Syria and Iraq, with many more back home recruiting, funding and sympathising with ISIS.

Such individuals pose a grave threat, he said, adding: "Our domestic security agency is currently investigating several thousand persons of concern and has over 400 high-priority cases."

Of the 25 Australians who returned after training in the Middle East, 19 were later involved in some form of terror activity in Australia, with eight convicted so far of terrorism offences, he said.

To confront these and other problems, Singapore and Australia have agreed to step up intelligence sharing, visits and collaboration between law enforcement and national security agencies.

Both countries will also "compare notes" on the profiles, motivations and vulnerabilities of radicalised individuals and how to reintegrate them back into society, PM Lee said at the Istana event.

While here, Mr Abbott visited Khadijah Mosque, which hosts a resource and counselling centre for the Religious Rehabilitation Group - whose Muslim scholars counsel terror detainees and radicalised individuals.

Said Mr Abbott at the lecture: "I refuse to call this death cult 'Islamic State' because to do so insults the Muslims it is killing and concedes legitimacy to a movement at war with the world.

"Still, Daesh is consolidating its power over an area as large as Italy with about eight million people. Its affiliates control large swathes of Libya and Nigeria, and are active in the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa," he said, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS. "It is seeking to establish a far province in South-east Asia. It is the deadly enemy of all governments and of all people."

This article was first published on June 30, 2015.
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