The Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia have pledged to work together to stop the flow of terrorist funds and illicit arms, amid fears that prolonged fighting in the southern Philippine city of Marawi could lead to infiltration of the region by ISIS.
The three countries yesterday issued a joint statement reaffirming their desire to jointly develop and implement counter-terrorism measures and strategies, after foreign ministers and security officials from the countries met at a security summit here.
The countries agreed to work on an "action plan" to stop the flow of terrorist financing and "contain the spread of terrorism and terrorism-related content in cyberspace, particularly social media".
They also agreed to share intelligence on terror threats and push for ways to stop arms smuggling and movements of militants across their borders.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told reporters that details would be hammered out at a meeting of senior Asean officials in August, and a final "action plan" should be ready when Asean's foreign ministers meet in October.
At the conference, the ministers discussed ways "to counter the extremist narrative" through education and community engagement, and to address the root causes of extremism, such as poverty.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman pushed for a "formal mechanism where shared experience, information and intelligence can be translated into concrete action and follow-up".
"This is an urgent task," he said, citing the month-long stand-off in Marawi between government troops and Muslim militants with ties to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). About 500 militants from the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups had seized large parts of the southern Philippine city on May 23 in a bid to turn the mainly Muslim city into an ISIS "province".
The militants are still holding on, though Philippine security officials said their numbers had dropped to "a little over 100", confined to an area just 1 sq km wide.
There are worries that militants fleeing Marawi may fan out to Malaysia, Indonesia and elsewhere in South-east Asia, and that the siege in Marawi has drawn radicals from across the region to the Philippines. "The Philippines is like a magnet now," said Philippine military chief of staff Eduardo Ano, who took part in the closed-door security conference.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Indonesian President Joko Widodo spoke on the phone before the conference, and "reaffirmed the need to step up operations to address threats posed by terrorism and violent extremism", Mr Duterte's spokesman Ernesto Abella said at a news briefing.
Philippine security officials had earlier said that about 40 foreign extremists, mostly from Malaysia and Indonesia, took part in the attacks in Marawi. Among the 276 militants killed so far were at least three Malaysians and one Indonesian.
Malaysia has warned that Isnilon Hapilon and Abdullah Maute, who led the attempt to capture Marawi, may try to flee to Sabah. Jolted by the Marawi attack, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia have begun joint sea patrols to control the movements of militants across their archipelagic region.
A raid by another ISIS-linked group on a town just a few hours south of Marawi has sparked fears that new fronts in the battle against militants may open up, straining the Philippine military's ability to contain insurgencies in the area.
Militants from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters attacked a village in Pigcawayan town, Mindanao, on Wednesday morning.