by Yasmine Yahya
SYDNEY (The Straits Times/ANN) - Asean and Australia signed a pact to cooperate on fighting violent extremism and terrorism financing on Friday, as Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull warned that terrorists are using digital technology in innovative ways to finance, plan and conduct their attacks.
Under the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), Asean and Australia will work together to develop and implement counter-terrorism legislation consistent with international standards and best practices.
They will also start a workshop on using electronic evidence in the investigation and prosecution of terrorism and transnational crime. The agreement also paves the way for exchange programmes for financial intelligence analysts and regional forums for Asean and Australian law enforcement agencies.
The MOU comes at a time when terrorists increasingly use non-conventional funding methods, including digital currencies, stored value cards and crowdfunding platforms, making it harder to detect terrorism financing, Mr Turnbull noted.
It has also become more critical than ever for countries to work together to counter terrorism, as the front line in the battle against this scourge is - in an interconnected world - everywhere, he added.
"We have seen... very, very graphically, where detailed instructions about the preparation of a weapon were transmitted over encrypted applications from Syria to an individual here in Australia," he said. "So we have to be constantly alert, constantly working with our neighbours in the region."
He was speaking at a counter-terrorism conference, where the MOU was signed by Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop and Asean Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi. The conference took place on the sidelines of the Asean-Australia Special Summit. Mr Turnbull and Asean leaders, including Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, witnessed the signing.
Speaking on behalf of Asean leaders, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak urged leaders to fight terrorism on social media.
"This is our new main battleground - to win the hearts and minds of our youth through social media so that they do not easily succumb to the warped, perverse and evil ideology of Daesh," he said, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Earlier in the day, Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton warned the conference that the use of encrypted messaging apps to plan terror attacks is the greatest threat faced by intelligence agencies.
The use of the "dark web" by extremists and other criminals is a spiralling problem, he said, referring to the murky back alleys of the Internet, including chat apps, where criminals sell weapons and drugs.
"It would be a mistake to approach the problem from a purely national perspective," he said, urging a united and cohesive response.
Australian ministers announced various other plans yesterday aimed at boosting ties with Asean, including a new Asean-Australia Infrastructure Skills Dialogue to address the skills challenges both sides face.
Mr Turnbull also announced at a CEO Forum a A$30 million (US$22.8 million) investment fund to support smart cities. The initiative will set up a knowledge bank of sustainable urban planning ideas to be shared between Asean and Australia.