UN told: ISIS is threat to Southeast Asia

UNITED NATIONS – As America seeks the United Nations’ support against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Australia reminded the world body that the terrorist group is a threat to countries even far from the region.  

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said her country and Southeast Asia are also at risk from the brutality of ISIS. Bishop made the comments during a speech before a UN Security Council ministerial debate on Iraq that US Secretary of State John Kerry chaired on Friday, September 19.

“ISIL’s actions leave no doubt of the severity of the threat to the region and the wider world. It poses a threat to Australia, our friends in Southeast Asia and beyond,” Bishop said, using the other acronym for ISIS. “We’ve seen this before. Extremists, foreign fighters returning home, responsible for terrorist attacks in our region.”

While the US reaches out to Arab nations and Western allies in forming a coalition to fight ISIS, Australia and Southeast Asian countries like the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia also grapple with the treat of ISIS. 

Bishop noted that just days ago, Australia thwarted a plot for random beheadings by a group in her country inspired by ISIS.

Rappler earlier reported that at least two Filipinos, 50 Indonesians, about 20 Malaysians and 200 Australians went to Syria to join ISIS. (READ: Southeast Asian recruits join jihadist ISIS) Former president Fidel V. Ramos, citing raw intelligence, also said about 100 Filipino Muslims are training in Iraq to become jihadists. 

The Philippines has said it will help global efforts to “thwart ISIS” after Reuters reported that two Filipinos were killed fighting for the terrorist group. Leaders of local terror groups also pledged allegiance to ISIS. 

Australia and Southeast Asia experienced how returning jihadis put their countries at risk when Afghan war veterans carried out Asia’s 9/11, the 2002 Bali bombing, killing 22, including 88 Australians. 

Bishop said, “Who can forget grotesque image shown around the globe of Australian child, not more than 9 years old, standing with his father, an ISIL leader, and holding up severed head of a soldier? This showed beyond any ambiguity the kind of hideous acts of which this group is capable."

ISIS controls large swathes of Iraq and Syria in a bid to establish a so-called Islamic Caliphate.

Initially a part of Al Qaeda, ISIS became so brutal that the terrorist group behind the 9/11 attacks disowned it. ISIS has executed prisoners, killed children, enslaved and raped women, and beheaded soldiers and American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and British aid worker David Haines.

Australia staged its largest ever counter-terrorism raids on Thursday, September 18, detaining suspects and foiling an alleged plot by ISIS to conduct "demonstration killings." At least 800 officers, acting on issued search warrants, conducted a pre-dawn operation.

Kerry pushes for ‘holistic global campaign’ 

The meeting was a rare chance for Kerry to face the Security Council, the latest in his efforts to shore up support for a global coalition and US President Barack Obama’s strategy to “degrade and destroy ISIS.” 

In his statement before the Council, Kerry said the presence of 35 countries in the meeting “underscores the clear need for all of us to come together…to put an end to ISIL’s unfettered barbarity."

“In the face of this sort of evil, we have only one option: to confront it with a holistic global campaign that is committed and capable of degrading and destroying this terrorist threat,” Kerry said.

He said the campaign must involve not just a military component but also support for Iraq’s new government, humanitarian assistance, and countering ISIS propaganda. 

“It’s about taking out an entire network – decimating and discrediting a militant cult masquerading as a religious movement. The fact is there is a role for nearly every country in the world to play, including Iran, whose foreign minister is here with us today,” referring to Mohammad Javad Zarif, whom the US and 5 other countries are in talks with over its nuclear program. 

The Kerry-led debate is in preparation for a meeting on September 24 that Obama will chair to draw global response against foreign terror fighters. It is the first time in 5 years he will preside over the council, whose presidency the US holds, for this month. (READ: Aquino, Obama at the UN: What to expect)

French airstrikes, Australia too?

In the two-hour meeting, leaders from over 30 countries expressed support for battling ISIS but some like France hit the US for its previous actions in Iraq.

“Intervention in Iraq in 2003 was a serious mistake, but action for Iraq and against Daech (ISIS) in 2014 is our duty,” said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.

France joined the US in conducting air strikes against ISIS targets in Iraq on Thursday. 

Fabius condemned ISIS, refusing to call them by their self-styled name. “We are facing throat-cutters. The terrorist group Daech that has seized control of part of Iraq and Syria wishes to be known as the ‘Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.’ But Daech doesn't have the legitimacy of a State nor does it represent Islam. The Grand Imam of al-Azhar mosque in Egypt spoke clearly: ‘They are criminals who tarnish the image of Islam and Muslims.’ They rape, crucify and decapitate.”

Australia’s Bishop reiterated that Canberra also stands ready to provide military assistance against ISIS, on top of the humanitarian aid it is giving displaced women and girls in Iraq. 

“We are willing to provide strike, early warning, and air-to-air refueling aircraft and a Special Forces task group to assist the Iraqi security forces," she said. 

“There is more we can all do. Australia is introducing legislative reforms to address the threat from homegrown terrorism and is intensifying our counter-terrorism engagement with others. We urge other member states to do the same.” – Rappler.com   

Rappler multimedia reporter Ayee Macaraig is a 2014 fellow of the Dag Hammarskjöld Fund for Journalists. She is in New York to cover the UN General Assembly, foreign policy, diplomacy, and world events.