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    Dec 23, 2015

    ISIS 'eyeing Indonesia for distant caliphate'


    THE Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group is working to boost its presence in Indonesia with dreams of creating a "distant caliphate" in the world's most populous Muslim-majority country, Australia warned yesterday.

    Attorney-General George Brandis, who spent Monday in meetings between Indonesian and Australian ministers, police chiefs and security officials, said it constituted a threat to Australian and Western interests.

    "ISIS has ambitions to elevate its presence and level of activity in Indonesia, either directly or through surrogates," he told The Australian newspaper.

    "You've heard the expression the 'distant caliphate'? ISIS has a declared intention to establish caliphates beyond the Middle East; provincial caliphates in effect. It has identified Indonesia as a location of its ambitions."

    ISIS, which adheres to a fundamentalist doctrine of Sunni Islam, has already declared caliphates in several areas outside Syria and northern Iraq, where it holds a swathe of territory.

    Mr Brandis' comments follow Indonesian police foiling plans for a suicide attack in Jakarta and arresting radicals linked to ISIS.

    Three-day raids across Java ending Sunday saw the confiscation of explosive materials and an ISIS-inspired flag, as well as nine arrests.

    The extremists were targeting shopping malls, police stations and minority groups across the country, Indonesia's national police chief said.

    Security has been beefed up across the country, with senior ministers from Australia and Indonesia agreeing on Monday to boost intelligence sharing, including on terrorism financing, following bilateral talks in both Sydney and Jakarta.

    Indonesia is considering revoking the passports of Indonesians who join ISIS, The Straits Times reported. The proposed move also covers Indonesians repatriated after being caught trying to cross into Syria.

    The Australian newspaper said that while Australian authorities believed there was little chance ISIS could create a caliphate within Indonesia, they were deeply worried the terror group may establish a permanent foothold in the archipelago.

    This could allow it to conduct attacks against Western or Australian interests within Indonesia and beyond.

    Australia's Justice Minister Michael Keenan said the rise of Islamist militant groups had destabilised the security of both countries.

    "The rise of ISIS in the Middle East is something that has destabilised the security of Australia, it's destabilised the security of Indonesia and it's destabilising the security of our friends and partners, particularly here in the region," he said.

    ISIS lost around 14 per cent of its territory this year, while Syria's Kurds almost tripled the land they control, United States-based think tank IHS Jane's said on Monday.

    The development is a blow to the group given that its aim is to capture and hold territory to expand its so-called caliphate, where it imposes a severe and bloody form of what it calls Islamic law.

    An IHS analyst said there was a "negative financial impact on ISIS due to the loss of control of the Tal Abyad border crossing prior to the recent intensification of air strikes against the group's oil production capacity".

    However, ISIS has made some high-profile gains during the year, including the historic Syrian town of Palmyra and the city centre of Ramadi, the provincial capital of Anbar, Iraq's largest province.