US, Australia, Iran warn of returning ISIS fighters

Global Nation – Top US and Australian officials warned on Monday that battle-hardened and angry foreign fighters of the ISIS group may return to Southeast Asia from the Middle East and take up arms in their own countries

ISIS fighters will “come back with battlefield skills, they’ll come back with hardened ideology, they’ll come back angry, frustrated, and we need to be very aware of that,” Australian Defense Minister Marise Payne said at an Australia-US ministerial summit, which was also attended by US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his Australian counterpart, Julie Bishop.

In Tehran, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made a similar warning on Sunday: “Today, Daesh is being pushed out from its birthplace in Iraq and Syria and is moving to other countries—Afghanistan, Pakistan and even the Philippines and European countries.”

“This is a fire that [Western powers] themselves ignited and now has backfired on them,” Khamenei told a gathering of senior officials in Tehran at a ceremony marking the anniversary of the death of revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989.

Also on Sunday, Indonesian Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu told an international security forum in Singapore that there were about 1,200 IS operatives in the Philippines, including foreigners of whom 40 were from Indonesia.

Speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue as fighting between Philippine troops and IS-linked gunmen continued to rage in Marawi City for the second week, Ryamizard urged full-scale regional cooperation against what he described were ISIS “killing machines.”

Still, top Philippine officials said Ryamizard’s report about 1,200 ISIS fighters in Mindanao was unconfirmed. “We don’t have those numbers,” Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, spokesperson for the Armed Forces, said in Manila.

Several senators, however, supported joint patrols planned by Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines in the Sulu Sea to kick off a larger regional effort to keep Islamist militants at bay. —REPORTS FROM AFP AND CHRISTINE O. AVENDAÑO IN MANILA