KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia and Australia will share intelligence on militants in Southeast Asia, a senior Malaysian minister said on Tuesday, as the two allies brace for the possible return of Islamic State militants from Iraq.
Iraqi forces backed by a U.S.-led coalition have taken 30 percent of west Mosul from Islamic State militants in an operation launched in October to drive the IS out of its last major stronghold.
Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the success of the Mosul operation would drive hundreds of IS militants and sympathisers from Southeast Asia back to their home countries.
“Daesh is a common foe that we need to face,” Hishammuddin told reporters, using an Arab acronym for IS, 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 IS in the region, particularly the Abu Sayyaf militant group that has pledged allegiance with IS.
Muslim-majority Malaysia arrested more than 250 people between 2013 and 2016 over suspected militant activities linked to Islamic State.
On Monday, Malaysian police said they arrested seven people, including five Filipinos, for suspected links to IS.
Malaysia has been on high alert since armed gunmen launched multiple attacks in Jakarta, the capital of neighbouring Indonesia, in January 2016.
Reporting by Joseph Sipalan; Editing by Nick Macfie