World

Southeast Asian nations to coordinate against IS returnees

Southeast Asian and Pacific governments will hold a summit in August to coordinate against the security threat posed by homegrown Islamic militants returning from battlefields in Syria and Iraq, an Australian official said on Wednesday.

Attorney-General George Brandis said he would co-host the summit in the Indonesian city of Manado in the last week of August that would also be attended by Malaysia, Philippines and New Zealand.

The other co-host is Wiranto, Indonesia's coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs who uses one name.

"The focus of the inaugural meeting of the regional ministers summit on counterterrorism will be ... returning foreign fighters," Brandis told a Senate committee.

"It is the issue which is of greatest concern to heads of government and homeland security ministers in the region when it comes to counterterrorism," he added.

Hundreds of militants are returning to their homes in the Asia-Pacific region as Islamic State fighters lose ground in Syria and Iraq. Officials fear that they will continue plotting to kill at home.

Brandis said security officials as well as political leaders would attend the summit to help build operational cooperation in the region.

Indonesia has hosted counterterrorism summits in the past, including a meeting of 20 nations on the resort island of Bali in August last year.

Brandis, who is responsible for Australia's main spy agency, flew to Washington in March for counterterrorism talks with senior officials in President Donald Trump's administration, including FBI director James Comey, who was fired this month.

Critics argue that Trump's disclosure to Russian diplomats highly classified information about Islamic State plotting collected by Israel threatened trust in U.S. intelligence sharing with its allies.

But Brandis said: "The closeness of the relationship with our agencies cannot be overstated."

"The change of administration in the United States has made no difference at all to the intimacy and the readiness of the Americans, in particular, to share through the Five Eyes community intelligence with Australia," Brandis said, referring to the five-nation intelligence-sharing network that also includes Britain, Canada and New Zealand.