SYDNEY: Stronger regional cooperation is needed to counter the threat posed by foreign fighters returning from the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, Australia’s foreign minister said Saturday.
About 90 countries have claimed that some of their citizens were involved in terrorism overseas, Julie Bishop said.
“The threat of returning foreign terrorist fighters to Australia is real and present,” she told reporters in Perth.
“We are also concerned about the threat of foreign fighters returning to our region.
“And this threat demands a stronger and closer level of cooperation amongst all countries affected by it.”
Bishop said Australia deeply appreciated the cooperation it already had with its neighbours, and was not singling out any country to do more.
“But we, and countries in our region, know that it will have to be stronger and closer,” she said of the cooperation which could include law enforcement, intelligence, border control and defense issues.
“I am not suggesting there is any lack of support for that view at all,” she added.
Bishop, who will attend a high level meeting in France next week on the crisis in Iraq and Syria, said about 100 Australians were thought to be fighting with the jihadists in Syria and Iraq.
“The estimates are there are about 200 Indonesians who are foreign fighters,” she added.
In an interview with The Weekend Australian, Bishop said that nations with citizens involved had a responsibility to crackdown on IS funding and recruits.
“I want all countries who believe they have foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria to do what they can to assist,” the minister told the newspaper.
“I’m certainly encouraging a greater effort. This is a threat we all face.”
The meeting in Paris, announced on May 20 by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, will be attended by US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Foreign Minister Bishop said the talks would focus on Iraq and Syria but there would also be a strong push for a strategy to deal with “global Daesh”, another term for IS.
“We also believe the coalition must work on counter messaging and addressing the flow of finance and foreign fighters,” she said.
Australia raised its threat level to high last September and has since carried out a series of counter-terrorism raids, with several alleged plots foiled this year.