Philippines, Australia vow cooperation against Islamic militants

MANILA (Reuters) - Australia agreed on Thursday to help the Philippines improve its surveillance, intelligence and forensic investigation to prevent Paris-style attacks by Islamist militants in Southeast Asia.At least five Islamist militant groups in the southern Philippines have pledged allegiance to Islamic State, a militant gropup that has taken control of swathes of Iraq and Syria. Canberra and Manila will step up exchange of information, concentrating on the flow of Southeast Asian militants traveling to and from Syria and Iraq. The increased cooperation were discussed by top Philippine police officials with Australian Justice Minister Michael Keenan and Federal Police Commissioner Neil Gaughan, who are on a tour of Southeast Asia. "We always consider the potential threat posed by radicalized Filipinos supporting the ISIS," said a senior police official, referring to Islamic State, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to talk to the press. "We are concerned with the risk of ISIS elements traveling to the country to promote violent extremism and, worse, to seek haven or use the country as a transit point in going to conflict zones." Counter terrorism officials from both countries are worried over the presence of about two million Filipino contract workers in the Middle East, some of whom are in Iraq and Syria and who may be inspired by Islamic State. The group claimed responsibility for the deaths of 130 people in attacks in Paris last month, the deadliest in France since World War Two. Singapore sees a "clear and present danger" to Asia from Islamist militancy, Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen said on Wednesday. (Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Nick Macfie)