Australia seeks to aid terror fight

Australia seeks to aid terror fight

Keenan to meet Prawit before heading to KL

Australia's Minister for Justice Michael Keenan was also given the task last year of
Australia's Minister for Justice Michael Keenan was also given the task last year of "minister assisting the prime minister on counter-terrorism". (Reuters photo)

Australia's Justice Minister Michael Keenan will meet Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon and Thai security officials Thursday to build cooperation against terrorism in the wake of the Jakarta attacks.

After visiting Thailand, Mr Keenan will fly to Kuala Lumpur to discuss counter-terrorism efforts with Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

The visit by Mr Keenan, who is also assisting Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on counter-terrorism, comes amid mounting concerns among Thai security authorities over the threat of terrorism in the region following the Jakarta attacks, which left eight people dead last week, and the arrest of four suspects linked to the Islamic State (IS) on Saturday.

"We know that violent extremism is not a problem unique to one country; nations across our region are working together to adapt to this challenge," Mr Keenan said in a statement released Wednesday.

"The Australian government is concerned about the growing influence of the Islamic State group in the Southeast Asian region and has been working with our regional allies to deliver a coordinated response to this transnational threat," he said.

Apart from meeting Gen Prawit, Mr Keenan is scheduled to hold talks with Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya and Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda. Their talks will include tightening measures against terrorist movements across the region.

"In Thailand, I will discuss the need for regional cooperation to counter violent extremism and identify areas for future cooperation", Mr Keenan said.

Australia cannot address this threat alone. Collective and regional efforts are needed, he added.

Mr Keenan will also meet senior officers of the Royal Thai Police for a briefing on their response to last year's deadly Erawan shrine bombing as well as the country's general terrorism initiatives.

After meeting with Thai authorities, Mr Keenan will leave for Malaysia to attend the International Conference on De-radicalisation and Countering Violent Extremism and also meet with Malaysian authorities.

Mr Keenan's visit comes amid a stepping up of security in Thailand over the threat of terrorism in the region.

Pol Lt Gen Nathathorn Prousoontorn, chief of the Immigration Bureau, said he was deeply concerned about terror threats after terrorist attacks took place in Istanbul on Jan 12 and Jakarta on Jan 14 respectively. Two days later, a new round of terrorist attacks occurred in West Africa and in Pakistan.

"Even though we don't have any enemies, the Immigration Bureau has never been careless about this matter [terror threats]. Shortly after the Indonesian attacks took place, I immediately travelled to the South to inspect the immigration system there myself," Pol Lt Gen Nathathorn said.

He said he called a meeting with his Malaysian counterpart to discuss measures and efforts to prevent threats along the Thai-Malaysian border.  

The bureau had received a list of suspects involved in the Istanbul bombing from Turkey on Jan 12, said Pol Lt Gen Nathathorn.

The purpose of sharing the list with Thailand was for Thai immigration officials to check with the bureau's database and determine if these suspects had ever travelled to Thailand before, Pol Lt Gen Natthon said.

He also said that Turkish authorities asked their Thai counterparts to add the suspects to a blacklist of criminal suspects banned from entering Thailand.

Meanwhile, national police spokesman Detnarong Sutthichanbancha said Thai police had already received information about four suspects detained in Malaysia in connection with the attacks in Indonesia last week.

Citing results of a preliminary check, Pol Gen Detnarong said the four suspects were not linked with past violent incidents in Thailand, nor were they connected with violence in the South.

He reiterated that no IS activities have been detected in Thailand so far. 

Pol Maj Gen Songpol Wathanachai, deputy national police spokesman, said Thai authorities had been maintaining information sharing and cooperation efforts with Malaysia.

A meeting of intelligence officials is held every week at the Metropolitan Police Bureau, he said. Concerned officials, soldiers and officers from the police's Special Branch are also invited to discuss their ongoing monitoring of communities and of rental apartments in search of information about possible suspects and suspicious activities, he said.

The monitoring of communities and rental apartments has been conducted since the Bangkok bombings last August, he said, adding that so far, no irregularities have been detected.

On Tuesday, the bureau introduced a new fake-passport detection team comprised of both state officials and private partners. 

Based at Suvarnabhumi airport, the team is tasked with educating relevant government officials about fake passport detection techniques, said Pol Lt Gen Natthon.

The new team also serves as an additional mechanism for improved immigration screening, he said.

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