Australia has struck a tentative intelligence sharing agreement with Iran to help keep track of foreign fighters working with "Islamic State" in Iraq. More than 100 Australians have joined the terror group.
The deal is part of an effort by both countries to confront the threat of "Islamic State" (IS) militants in the Middle East, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop (pictured left) told public broadcaster, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, on Monday.
"It was an informal arrangement whereby we'd share intelligence that would give us information on the Australians who are taking part," she said in Tehran.
"We have a common purpose with Iran in defeating Daesh and helping the Iraqi government," she added, referring to IS by its Arabic acronym.
Over the weekend, Bishop met with her Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif, President Hassan Rouhani and the head of Iran's National Security Council. She is the first Australian minister to visit Iran in more than a decade.
Bishop said the new agreement was significant because Iran had a long-standing relationship with neighboring Iraq, and an intelligence network that extended beyond Canberra's reach.
"I believe Iran has information that we would seek and they were very agreeable to share that information with us," she said.
Australia is a close United States ally and part of the international coalition that began bombing IS targets in Iraq last August. Iran isn't part of that coalition, but Shiite paramilitaries allied with Tehran have been involved in key battles against the terror group, notably in the battle for Tikrit - the birthplace of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Hundreds of Australian soldiers have been deployed in Iraq to help train local soldiers fighting IS. Meanwhile, more than 100 Australian citizens have traveled to Iraq and Syria to fight alongside the militant jihadis, according to intelligence agencies. Several dozen of these fighters are believed to have returned to Australia, heightening concerns about home-grown radicalization.
Australia raised its terror threat level last September in response to the risk posed by IS. Three months later an Iranian-born self-styled cleric with a history of extremist views killed two hostages at a Sydney café.
Stricter border security
In the most recent incident, Australian police on Saturday arrested five young men in Melbourne for allegedly plotting an IS-inspired attack. They had reportedly planned to target an April 25 event marking the centenary of the landing by Australian and New Zealand troops at Gallipoli during World War I.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who is attending Anzac commemorations in Turkey this week, said Monday he would use the trip to push Ankara to tighten security on its borders with Syria and Iraq. Turkey is perhaps the most common entry point for foreigners seeking to fight with IS in the Middle East.
"So I will be talking to the Turkish leadership about what can be done to better police that border and better ensure that people who have no reason to be going there are prevented from being there," Abbott said.
nm/jil (AFP, Reuters)