MANILA -- The Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia will collaborate on air and marine defense in the wake of frequent terrorist attacks by extremists linked to the Islamic State group.
Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Tun Hussein has said the three Southeast Asian countries will jointly defend the waters off the southern Philippine island of Mindanao starting June 19, and that they will join forces on air defense as well.
In waters off the southern Philippines, the kidnapping of sailors by the IS-linked Abu Sayyaf group has been increasing sharply. Meanwhile, in the western Mindanao city of Marawi, which has been plagued by continuous conflicts, the IS-affiliated Maute group apparently sought to create an independent enclave of its own. IS-linked fighters from Saudi Arabia and elsewhere are known to be entering the country as well. The combined air and marine defense is aimed at preventing the extremists from establishing solid operational bases.
While attending the three-day Asia Security Summit in Singapore, Indonesian Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu on Sunday invited Singapore, Thailand and others to the joint defense effort, given that developments around Mindanao could spread elsewhere. In response, Singapore's Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen told local media that the city-state would take part in the combined marine defense.
Many Islamic militant groups in Southeast Asia are turning increasingly extremist as a result of strengthened ties with IS. Isnilon Hapilon, the Philippines' most-wanted man and head of the Abu Sayyaf group, is positioned as a local leader of IS. There are at least 31 Southeast Asian terrorist groups linked to IS, according to Singapore's Ng, who stressed the importance of blocking these organizations from taking root in the region.
The IS influence is also rapidly rising in Indonesia, home of the world's largest Muslim population. Three have been arrested for suspected involvement in a suicide bombing in Jakarta last month that the nation has declared an IS-linked act of terrorism.
In Malaysia, the June 2016 bombing of a bar in a suburb of Kuala Lumpur injured eight customers, leading to the arrest of 15 perpetrators. The bombing is believed to have been orchestrated by a Malaysian fighter who took part in IS activities in Syria.
In Mindanao, where the military continues to battle with the Maute group, 134 Maute fighters had been killed as of Tuesday. The Philippine military has stepped up its search-and-destroy operation by deploying highly destructive fighter aircraft, among other actions. President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly declared his intent to defeat IS and eradicate its influence.
In addition to its heavily Muslim populations, Southeast Asia is subject to the rising influence of IS because the militant group is losing ground in Iraq and Syria to coalition forces. As security concerns slow their economies and undermine investments from foreign entities, countries in the region are coming together in a shared, urgent fight against the extremists.