US Defence Secretary James Mattis says US, allies won't be scared by ISIS attacks against West

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis speaking at the 16th IISS Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.
US Secretary of Defense James Mattis speaking at the 16th IISS Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (REUTERS, AFP) - United States Defence Secretary James Mattis said on Monday (June 5) the US and its allies would continue to fight against Islamist extremists and would not be scared by attacks against the West by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has said Britain must be tougher in stamping out Islamist extremism after attackers killed at least seven people by ramming a van into pedestrians on London Bridge and stabbing revellers in nearby bars.

ISIS, which is losing territory in Syria and Iraq to an offensive backed by a US-led coalition, said its militants were responsible for the attack, the group's media agency Amaq said in a statement monitored in Cairo.

One French national and one Canadian were among those killed. At least 48 people were wounded in the attack, including at least one Australian.

"We are united, as I said, in our resolve, even against an enemy that thinks by hurting us they can scare us," Mr Mattis said, appearing in Sydney alongside US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for the first time outside the US. "Well, we don't scare," Mr Mattis said.

Mr Mattis and Mr Tillerson were due to hold a media conference with their Australian counterparts later on Monday.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the world would likely see more such attacks, and that it was a problem that the global community must be "vigilant and determined and defiant".

"These criminals, these terrorists, are cowards. There is nothing heroic in what they do," he told an earlier media conference in Sydney. "Now, this is a corruption, a disease, within Islam. It is a global phenomenon and it has to be dealt with globally," Mr Turnbull said.

The three assailants in the London attack on Saturday were all shot dead by police. It was the third Islamist-inspired attack in the United Kingdom in the past three months, prompting British Prime Minister Theresa May to declare overnight that "enough is enough".

The officials also warned that battle-hardened and angry foreign fighters may return to South-east Asia from the Middle East and take up arms in their own countries.

ISIS fighters will "come back with battlefield skills, they'll come back with hardened ideology, they'll come back angry, frustrated, and we need to be very aware of that", Australian Defence Minister Marise Payne said.

Australian officials say they have prevented 12 terror attacks on home soil since 2014 with more than 60 people charged.

In the Philippines, hundreds of civilians are trapped by fighting between the military and Islamist militants who have over-run the city of Marawi on the restive southern island of Mindanao.