Australia along with Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations have formed a new group to disrupt funding sources for Islamic State (IS) and other terror groups operating in the region, Australian Justice Minister Michael Keenan said Wednesday.
He made the announcement during the Counter-Terrorism Financing (CTF) Summit in Kuala Lumpur, three days after Thailand hosted a parade of Southeast Asia’s naval firepower in an event that also included bilateral meetings on regional security threats.
Keenan said the new alliance – the South East Asia Counter Terrorism Financing Working Group – would directly target and disrupt the funding lifeline of terrorist groups, including IS.
“The stability and security of South East Asia is of critical importance to Australia, and the Coalition Government is committed to defeating the threat posed by terrorist groups,” he said.
The new group, which representatives from across the region have endorsed, will be co-led by Australia’s financial intelligence agency and regulator, Austrac, and the Philippine Anti-Money Laundering Council, Keenan said in a news release.
Other members will include the financial intelligence units from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and the new grouping will get support from a $4.6-million package, which the Australian government will fund over a three-year span, he said.
“Intelligence generated through this initiative will … harden our financial system from the threat of terrorism financing,” said Kennan, who also holds the ministerial rank as Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s adviser on counter-terrorism.
The four-day summit, which began Monday, is aimed at sharing insights on the latest counter-terrorism strategies. More than 350 specialists from 35 countries and international groups are attending it, organizers said.
Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi told summit participants that Kuala Lumpur would monitor all transactions suspected of providing financial lifeline to terrorist organizations.
“If you kill one terrorist, another terrorist will be born,” he said. “But if you cut off the funds and other economic resources, you can put an end to the entire operation.”
Muhammad Ibrahim, the governor of Malaysia’s central bank, told the conference that his country had begun working on a structure to regulate and secure transactions involving digital currencies such as bitcoin from money-laundering and terrorism financing, according to Reuters.
The number of suspicious transaction reports (STRs) from financial institutions had increased this year in relation to terrorism financing, he said. In the first half of 2017, Malaysian authorities had received 346 STRs related to terrorism, which led to 34 disclosures to law enforcement agencies, compared with 93 reports in 2015, Reuters quoted the bank’s governor as saying.
Indonesia’s security affairs minister, Gen. Wiranto, was also at the meeting. Jakarta was monitoring every organization in the country, and it would be impossible for sympathizers of terrorists to provide suspicious funding without being traced, he told reporters in Kuala Lumpur.
Show of force
Earlier this week, more than 40 modern ships, including 26 from the Southeast Asian region, went on display for the International Fleet Review southeast of Bangkok. During related events leading up to the fleet review and spread out over 10 days, naval commanders held bilateral meetings and discussed regional security threats.
The display of naval firepower took place a month after Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines launched trilateral air patrols to bolster a three-month-old joint maritime effort to rid their shared borders of threats from extremists linked to the so-called Islamic State.
The increased concerns over regional security threats were an offshoot of the five-month battle against IS-backed militants in the southern Philippines city of Marawi, during which 930 militants, 165 soldiers and policemen and 47 civilians were killed.