New Southeast Asia force aims to choke militant financing
Australia and Southeast Asian countries have joined forces to try to choke financing for militant networks, Australia’s justice minister said on Wednesday, amid concerns about Islamic State gaining a foothold in the region.
IS militants seized the southern Philippine city of Marawi in May, a move Philippine officials and analysts say was part of the group’s plan to establish a base in the region.
The new alliance aims to disrupt the funding of militant groups through enhanced financial intelligence sharing, Australian Justice Minister Michael Keenan said on Wednesday in Kuala Lumpur, where he is attending a counterterrorism conference.
“The stability and security of Southeast Asia is of critical importance to Australia,” said Keenan, who advises Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on counterterrorism issues.
Canberra “is committed to defeating the threat posed by terrorist groups, including [IS], in the region,” he said.
Dozens of Australians were killed in a nightclub bombing on the Indonesian resort island of Bali in 2002, one of the worst such attacks in the region.
Keenan said under the new initiative – endorsed by representatives from across the region – countries taking part will “directly target and disrupt the funding lifeline of terrorist groups” by denying them access to the international financial system and other sources of funding.
Australia’s financial intelligence agency AUSTRAC and the Philippines’ Anti-Money Laundering Council will lead the group.
The creation of the alliance – named the Southeast Asia Counter Terrorism Financing Working Group – is the latest effort to enhance regional cooperation against militants.
Earlier this year, Australia sent two Orion aircraft to provide surveillance for Philippine troops in their bloody five-month battle with militants to liberate Marawi.
Australia has been sharing intelligence with some Southeast Asian countries for many years but those arrangements need to be institutionalised, Keenan told reporters on Wednesday.
“We all know that the key weapon that we have in this war against terrorism is information and … we must find ways that it is shared seamlessly and shared in a timely way.”