Friday 31 October 2014

Returning ISIS fighters 'pose threat to region'

Indonesian military chief to meet counterparts to defuse the danger
By Zakir Hussain Indonesia Bureau Chief, The Straits Times, 30 Oct 2014

THE commander of Indonesia's armed forces (TNI) said yesterday that he plans to call for a meeting of his counterparts from the region to discuss how best to counter the threat of extremism from militant group ISIS.

General Moeldoko told a public lecture in Singapore that ISIS, or the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, was a significant threat to regional security.

And its full impact would be felt when its fighters from Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia and even a handful from Singapore return home.

"When they return to their countries... it is not easy to predict what actions they might conduct. This is why we need to think about scenarios to anticipate what might happen when they return," he told reporters later.

Gen Moeldoko, who was on a three-day visit that ended yesterday, said there were no detailed plans for this proposed regional conference yet, but he hoped to discuss it with Asean defence chiefs when they meet in Malaysia early next year.

Indonesia has been cool towards the United States-led global coalition against ISIS, saying military action alone cannot fix the problem.

But officials are concerned about the threat, with at least 60 Indonesians fighting in Syria and Iraq. Several have joined Malaysian fighters to form a military unit, which analysts fear could expand ISIS' reach in South-east Asia.

Gen Moeldoko told the lecture organised by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at the Sheraton Towers hotel: "ISIS is like a cancer... As a Muslim, it has nothing to do with the Islam I know, or the God I pray to."

He has taken a tough stance on the matter since his government announced a clampdown on ISIS activities and related paraphernalia in August, saying that month he would burn ISIS flags.

He has also met leaders of major Muslim groups and got officers to visit religious schools and speak about the dangers of ISIS ideology.

In his speech yesterday, Gen Moeldoko also spoke of how maritime security was a key area of concern for both Indonesia and Singapore. The slightest disturbance in regional waters, he said, could trigger a spill-on effect, alluding to tensions in the South China Sea.

Asean had to stay strong and united, Gen Moeldoko said, adding that Indonesia was also modernising its military. "I tell our counterparts Indonesia's military modernisation is not intended to provoke," he said.

"But the regional military build-up... comes about in anticipation of the shifting military balance in the South China Sea."

Gen Moeldoko also told reporters that, having met Mr Joko Widodo last week, he found the new President concerned about the military's strength and about the welfare of the 400,000 soldiers. There are plans to improve housing, salaries and health benefits for them.

On Tuesday, Gen Moeldoko co-chaired a high-level committee meeting with his Singapore counterpart, Lieutenant-General Ng Chee Meng, and they witnessed the signing of terms of reference for bilateral meetings between the Singapore Armed Forces and the TNI under this committee.

Gen Moeldoko said: "The militaries of Indonesia and Singapore have a long history. Both countries can enhance their collaboration to a stage that will contribute to peace and stability in the region."

Australia acts to stem flow of fighters to Mid-East
New law makes it easier to prosecute Aussies who join militant groups
The Straits Times, 31 Oct 2014

SYDNEY - Australia has passed a law criminalising travel to terror hot spots in a measure aimed at stopping militants from going to Iraq and Syria to fight.

The Australian government has been increasingly concerned about the flow of foreign fighters to the Middle East to join militant groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, with 70 Australians believed to have already made the journey.

The Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) includes measures that make it an offence to enter a "declared area" where a terrorist organisation is engaging in hostile activity, without a valid reason. The offence carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

"The Foreign Fighters Bill that has passed the Parliament today will mean, first of all, that it is easier to secure convictions against Australians who have been fighting with terrorist groups overseas," Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Parliament yesterday.

"It will mean that it is easier to monitor potential terrorists here and it will also mean... that it is easier to prosecute the preachers of hate who create the potential terrorists."

Mr Abbott said about 100 Australians were supporting militants who had travelled to the Middle East to fight through recruitment and funding from home. Some 20 militants who fought with terrorist groups in the region had returned to Australia, he said.

"The best way to deal with returning foreign fighters is to stop them leaving in the first place... and I'm able to inform the House that some 70 Australian passports have been cancelled to stop terrorists or potential terrorists from travelling," he said.

The new law came into force as the government introduced a Bill yesterday that requires Australian telecommunication firms to retain customers' digital data for two years.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the laws were "absolutely critical" for law enforcement and intelligence agencies, while stressing that the metadata collected "does not include the content of communications".

"What it is seeking to do simply is to ensure that the ability of our law enforcement agencies, security agencies and police is not diminished because changing technologies and changing business practices no longer require telcos to retain that type of data," he said.

But the Australian Lawyers Alliance said the Bill was a "recipe for privacy abuse" and would leave Australians with "no protection against security agencies misusing their personal or private information".

"Under the legislation, every single phone call, every single text message, e-mail or online communication will be available to be accessed by security agencies," alliance spokesman Greg Barns said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the authorities in Austria have detained on terrorism-related suspicions a 14-year-old boy who was allegedly planning to travel to Syria.

The boy is a Turkish national who has lived in Austria for about eight years.

"He admitted he had plans to go to Syria and searched the Internet for plans on how to build explosive devices," said Ms Michaela Obenaus, a prosecution spokesman in St Poelten, the capital of Lower Austria province.


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