INDONESIA, Malaysia and the Philippines began joint naval patrols in their region Monday as threats from extremist groups increase.
The “trilateral coordinated maritime patrol” was launched amid continuing battles between Philippine troops and Islamist gunmen loyal to the Islamic State group, who have seized part of the city of Marawi in Mindanao.
Indonesia’s military chief Gatot Nurmantyo said the patrols are timely as his country tries to stop any militants from Marawi escaping to Indonesia while posing as refugees.
The three neighbors agreed in May 2016 to conduct the joint patrols and share intelligence, after a series of kidnappings of foreigners by the Abu Sayyaf, an Islamist group who beheaded several victims after ransoms were not paid.
“The series of piracy attacks accompanied by kidnappings that occurred frequently in the Sulu [Sea] waters have had a huge security impact on surrounding coastal countries… and have pushed us to conduct a coordinated patrol among three countries,” said Nurmantyo when the joint patrol was launched at the Indonesian island of Tarakan off Borneo island.
The three countries also set up maritime command centers — in Tarakan for Indonesia, Tawau for Malaysia and Bongao for the Philippines — to collect information and coordinate the patrols.
This will enable the closest ship from any nation to be sent to answer distress calls and allow for hot pursuit, Nurmantyo said.
The launch was attended by the three countries’ defense ministers and marked by an Indonesian navy sail-past and a fly-past of Sukhoi fighter jets.
The Armed Forces on Monday urged border officials to strengthen immigration controls to stop jihadists from using the country’s southern backdoor to gain entry and to reinforce Islamic State-inspired terrorists in Marawi City.
“I think we need to fortify and strengthen our immigration procedures. Because that is our first line of defense [against foreign jihadists],” Armed Forces spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said in a Palace news briefing.
“We likewise recommend that we review the Human Security Act to check what we can do to prevent the entry of these individuals,” he added.
The announcements came following a meeting with Defense officials from the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia for the launch of joint sea patrols to curb piracy and terror activities in the high seas.
Two Indonesians and a Malaysian suspected of planning to cross over by sea in the Malaysian state of Sabah were arrested Friday by Malaysian authorities amid reports that they intended to join Islamic State-linked fighters battling military forces in Marawi.
Counter-terrorism officials, who are on heightened alert against possible militant attacks, arrested the three men a day earlier in Sandakan, Malaysia—where there are ferry services to the nearby Mindanao.
Malaysian Inspector General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar said the police’s counterterrorism team seized three knives from the Sabahan and two Indonesians who were arrested.
Khalid likewise said that threats might crop in the run-up to or during the Southeast Asian Games that will be hosted by Malaysia in August. With AFP
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