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Southeast Asians not immune to calls to join jihad in Syria: Masagos

More than 100 people from this region have reportedly joined extremist group ISIL, said Senior Minister of State for Home and Foreign Affairs Masagos Zulkifli. 

SINGAPORE: The recent gains made by an extremist group in Syria and Iraq cannot be ignored, said Senior Minister of State for Home and Foreign Affairs Masagos Zulkifli. 

Speaking on Tuesday (July 15) at the opening of the second ASEAN Counter-Terrorism Workshop on Joint Incident Management in Singapore, he noted that these developments could have an impact on the terrorism situation in Southeast Asia.

The recent successes of jihadist group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) could attract even more recruits from this region, he said. It is the second time in two days that he has talked about the terrorism threat posed by the conflict in Syria.

ISIL has recently emerged as a key player in the Syrian conflict - it has reportedly attracted 85 per cent of all the foreign fighters in Syria.

"Southeast Asians, like those from elsewhere, have not been immune to calls to join the jihad in Syria. Already, it has been reported in the media that more than 100 individuals from our region are in Iraq and Syria to join the ISIL," said Mr Masagos. 

Speaking to participants from the security agencies of ASEAN nations, he also said that despite sustained security operations by regional authorities, there have been signs of a resurgent Jemaah Islamiyah in the region.

"At the same time, we need to be vigilant against extra-regional elements like the Hizbollah. The foiled plots in Thailand at the beginning of 2012, and more recently again, in April 2014, serve as important reminders of the threat posed by Hizbollah and Iranian elements in the region."

With cyberspace offering terrorists a cloak of anonymity from which they can recruit, spread propaganda, raise funds and train a new generation of terrorists, there is a need to guard against terrorists who can carry out cyber-warfare on internet users and institutions, he added.

He also emphasised the importance of international and regional collaboration in the fight against terrorism.

That was a view shared by former Scotland Yard Counter-Terrorism Command officer Keith Pearce, who was a speaker at the event: "The terrorists work globally, so police officers and intelligence officers work globally as well. Sometimes, there is friction between countries, and that prevents it, but at the level of the investigation, people have got to work together because if we don't, then we become isolated and we're weaker then."

The three-day counter-terrorism workshop ends on Thursday. 

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