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ISIS death cult has to be defeated, Abbott warns

SINGAPORE — The Islamic State militant group has to be defeated because as long as people who are susceptible to its message continue to get indoctrinated, more and worse terrorist attacks can be expected, said Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott yesterday.

Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott delivers a lecture on "Our Common Challenges: Strengthening Security in the Region" in Singapore. Photo: Reuters

Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott delivers a lecture on "Our Common Challenges: Strengthening Security in the Region" in Singapore. Photo: Reuters

SINGAPORE — The Islamic State militant group has to be defeated because as long as people who are susceptible to its message continue to get indoctrinated, more and worse terrorist attacks can be expected, said Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott yesterday.

“I refuse to call this death cult the ‘Islamic State’, because to do so insults the Muslims it is killing every day and concedes legitimacy to a movement at war with the world,” said Mr Abbott, who instead referred to the group as Daesh, a colloquial Arabic reference.

“(Daesh) cannot be contained — it has to be defeated,” stressed the premier, who was giving the 35th Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) Singapore Lecture titled Our Common Challenges: Strengthening Security In The Region attended by several hundred academics, officials and business leaders at the Shangri-La hotel on Orange Grove Road.

Mr Abbott outlined the serious and growing threat posed by the Islamic State, calling the group “the deadly enemy of all governments and of all people” and adding that it is seeking to establish “a far province in South-east Asia.”

“I regret to say that we can expect more and worse atrocities as long as even a small minority of people are susceptible to its message.”

During the lecture chaired by Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and attended by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Mr Abbott said the militant group is using an “online world without borders” to brainwash young people with its “twisted interpretation of the Quran”.

More than 20,000 people from more than 80 countries, including at least 300 Indonesians and 90 Malaysians, have gone to join the group, noted Mr Abbott. Canberra estimates at least 120 citizens fighting in Islamic State-controlled territory, with another 160 at home recruiting and funding fighters.

Australia’s terrorism level was raised to high last September, when two policemen were stabbed by a suspected terrorist in Melbourne. In December, a siege at a Sydney cafe resulted in the death of two victims and the gunman, a self-styled Islamic preacher.

Reeling from these attacks, the Australian government has stepped up counterterrorism measures. Mr Abbott said more than 1,000 persons of concern were currently being investigated, with at least 400 labelled high priority cases. Last week, the government proposed a law revision to strip dual nationals of Australian citizenship if they are found engaging in terrorist activities.

“The world should be grateful for Singapore’s solidarity and readiness to be part of an international coalition against Daesh in the Middle East,” Mr Abbott said, adding that Singapore and Australia have been willing to shoulder their responsibilities to uphold freedom and security.

The ISEAS Singapore Lecture, inaugurated in 1980, is an annual series by distinguished leaders speaking on topics of international concern. Previous speakers include Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2013 and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2011.

Earlier yesterday, Mr Abbott and Mr Lee upgraded bilateral ties with the signing of a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. “We’re becoming family, not just friends,” said Mr Abbott.

Commenting on how Australia views China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea, Mr Abbott said that Canberra and Singapore shared identical positions.

“We take no sides of claimants, but we think that the claimants should resolve disputes peacefully in accordance with international law ... We support the Code of Conduct discussions and we hope that they can come to a satisfactory and smooth conclusion,” Mr Abbott said.

China has been creating new territories in the disputed waters — also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam — raising concerns that it might curtail freedom of navigation, while sightings of artillery equipment have sparked fears of militarisation.

Mr Abbott acknowledged that there were inevitable tensions in the South China Sea, but said it was more important to focus on areas where progress was possible.

He cited the example of the Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) as a positive example of regional cooperation, with both Singapore and Australia signing the articles of agreement in Beijing yesterday.

“Countries of the Asia-Pacific have too much to gain from cooperation and too much to lose from confrontation,” Mr Abbott said. “Continued prosperity depends on continued security.”

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