SYDNEY: ASEAN and Australia signed an agreement on Saturday (Mar 17) to work together to combat terrorism.
A memorandum of understanding signed at the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit will focus on technology, which is timely given how extremists around the world are using social media platforms to spread their ideology. It will tackle terrorism financing.
The new MOU will see a slew of programmes implemented. These include regional dialogues and forums with law enforcement partners to combat the threat of terrorist groups, workshops on counterterrorism for border security officials, the use of electronic evidence for investigations and prosecutions, and courses for financial intelligence analysts in Australia and ASEAN.
A counterterrorism legislation that is in line with international standards will also be developed.
“It won’t be an easy fight, nor will it be a quick one”, said Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. “And it’s made more complex because our adversaries’ methods and tactics are constantly evolving. We must evolve too,” he added, saying that it is not enough to simply react to this global threat.
Mr Turnbull noted how one tweet or YouTube video can reach millions of people in seconds, and this is exacerbated by the fact that more and more people are gaining access to mobile devices.
“It means we have a new generation of criminals and terrorists who are attempting to divide us, by attempting to exploit these platforms that were designed to bring us together”, said Mr Turnbull.
One area that governments must tackle is the use of social media and encrypted messaging applications, such as Telegram.
Mr Turnbull gave the example of how a terrorist in Syria was able to send instructions to an Australian counterpart over encrypted messaging. This slipped past authorities as it was hard to detect, and the perpetrators did not have to connect to a domestic network.
"WARPED AND EVIL"
Representing ASEAN, Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak threw his support behind the landmark initiative.
“This is our new main battleground - to win the hearts and minds of our youth through social media, so that they are not easily succumbed to the warped, perverse, and evil ideology of Daesh (Islamic State),” said Mr Najib.
Terrorism financing in the region is also becoming more prevalent, according to Mr Turnbull. This helps establish and maintain terror groups, as well as sustain the networks that connect them. He also mentioned the increasing popularity of financing methods that are less conventional and harder to detect, such as digital currencies, stored value cards and crowdfunding platforms.
As terrorist networks transcend borders, so must the collaboration of governments - particularly in the area of intelligence sharing - as countries have a vested interest in each other's security.
“We cannot allow the cybersphere to be a lawless territory”, Mr Turnbull said, highlighting the importance of trust, sharing and collaboration.
“Those who seek to do us harm use technology as innovatively as any of us can, and they are able to adapt and move in a very agile way. We have to be as fast and as quick as them”, he noted.
Mr Turnbull added that Australia will continue to work together with its neighbours to not only “defeat terrorism at its source”, but also to stem the flow of fighters going to conflict zones and those returning home.
As the Islamic State becomes influential in this region, IS sympathisers no longer need to travel to the battlegrounds to spread their cause or get training, said Mr Turnbull.
“So it’s vital for Australia and our ASEAN partners to collaborate across borders, to ensure that our counterterrorism legal frameworks are robust enough to provide effective investigation, prosecution, and punishment while being flexible enough to adapt to the changing and uncertain security environment”, Mr Turnbull said.
The new MOU is a progression of the 2016 ASEAN-Australia joint declaration for cooperation to combat international terrorism, which was signed in 2016.
“The MOU and its supporting outcomes are a symbol of our strength and solidarity as a region. They represent a further step in our relentless determination to rise up against those who seek to divide us”, Mr Turnbull said.
“We’re stronger when we work together. Our people are safer when we combine our efforts and cooperate.”