Australia seeks regional terrorism cooperation after Jakarta attack

Australia is seeking regional cooperation to fight the « menace » of violent extremism that will be with the region for some time, the country’s justice minister said on Saturday.

A deadly Jan. 14 attack in Jakarta that killed eight people and an August bombing in Bangkok that ripped through a popular shrine killing 20 people, most of them foreign tourists, have injected new urgency for regional counter-terrorism efforts.

« The region is subject to the same threats as the globe is and that is there is a malignant organization that has established itself in the Middle East, ISIL, and they continue to export terror around the globe, » Australian Justice Minister Michael Keenan told Reuters in Bangkok during a visit with his Thai counterparts to discuss security issues.

Keenan, who is also Counter-Terrorism Minister, said Australia stood ready to share its expertise with regional governments.

« If we can make those relationships stronger then we should seek to do so because this menace is going to be with us for some time and the more we can do to collaborate, to address it, the safer our people will be. »

Jakarta’s gun and bomb attack was claimed by Islamic State (IS), the radical group’s first assault on Indonesia.

Keenan said Australia has updated its travel warning for Indonesia but has not changed the threat level which remains to « exercise a high degree of caution ».

Jakarta has said it is working to stem the flow of Southeast Asian militants traveling to and from Syria and Iraq but police say the nation’s porous border makes it easy for people to be smuggled into Indonesia.

« We don’t want to change the open nature of our society. We like the fact that this is a very busy region with people passing through, » said Keenan.

« That’s  why  intelligence  is  very  important,  sharing  information  about  people  who  might  be  of concern, » he said.

On Tuesday, U.S. President Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull pledged to increase cooperation on counter-terrorism and the fight against Islamic State.

Australia, a staunch ally of the United States and its battle against Islamist militants in Iraq and Syria, has been on heightened alert for attacks by home-grown radicals.

Thai Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan last week said Thailand has not found any evidence of IS activities in the country, following reports that IS sympathizers had crossed the Thai-Malaysia border to meet with southern religious leaders.

Since 2004, insurgents have been battling for greater autonomy in Thailand’s three Muslim dominated provinces where fighting between Thai security forces and Malay-Muslim separatists has killed more than 6,000 people.

23/01 – Amy Sawitta Lefevre –