Malaysia, Australia to share intel on any ISIS returnees from Iraq

KUALA LUMPUR (REUTERS) - Malaysia and Australia will share intelligence on militants in South-east Asia, a senior Malaysian minister said on Tuesday (March 14) , as the two allies brace for the possible return of ISIS militants from Iraq.

Iraqi forces backed by a US-led coalition have taken 30 per cent of west Mosul from Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants in an operation launched in October to drive the militant group out of its last major stronghold.

Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the success of the Mosul operation would drive hundreds of ISIS militants and sympathisers from South-east Asia back to their home countries.

"Daesh is a common foe that we need to face," Hishammuddin told reporters, using an Arab acronym for ISIS, after meeting Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop in parliament.

"If the offensive in Mosul is successful, we will see a lot of hardened returnees and sympathisers to the region, especially in Malaysia, Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines and South Thailand."

He said Australia had also agreed to provide technological support and equipment in efforts to deal with the rising threat of ISIS in the region, particularly the Abu Sayyaf militant group that has pledged allegiance with ISIS.

Muslim-majority Malaysia arrested more than 250 people between 2013 and 2016 over suspected militant activities linked to the group.

On Monday, Malaysian police said they arrested seven people, including five Filipinos, for suspected links to ISIS.

Malaysia has been on high alert since armed gunmen launched multiple attacks in Jakarta, the capital of neighbouring Indonesia, in January 2016.