Australia's prime minister has told an Asia-Pacific regional conference that terrorism is a modern form of treason and the region's greatest security challenge.

It is crucial to find methods to tackle the ideology of extremist groups that have drawn thousands of foreign fighters to Iraq and Syria, Tony Abbott said in Sydney on Thursday.

"You can't negotiate with an entity like this, you can only fight it," he said of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group.

"This is not terrorism for a local grievance; this is terrorism with global ambitions."


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The conference is being attended by ministers and representatives of 30 nations as well as the technology companies Facebook, Twitter and Google.

Abbott said the only really effective defence against terrorism is persuading people that it is pointless.

"We need idealistic young people to appreciate that joining this death cult (ISIL) is an utterly misguided and wrong-headed way to express their desire to sacrifice," he said.

"How this is best done is, of course, the work of this conference."

Abbott said Australia was "looking at what can be done to deal with Australian citizens who have betrayed our country by fighting with terrorists, this modern form of treason".

Signficant 'buy-in'

Greg Barton, a professor from Monash University, told Al Jazeera that while Abbott was not well known for his "nuanced communication", the summit represented a significant "buy-in" for his government.

"I think this marks the beginning of a more public discussion about countering violent extremist approaches," he said.

"It marks the fact that the government is now ready to talk publicly about programmes and openly engage with the community."

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More than 100 Australians are believed to have joined armed groups in the Middle East and at least 30 have been killed, according to the government.

Many have also been recruited from across the Asia-Pacific.

The Sydney gathering follows a similar summit in Washington in February where US President Barack Obama said nations had to tackle the root causes driving recruitment to such groups.

But the three days of talks did not spell out concrete steps on what measures would be taken.

Topics set to be discussed at the Australian summit include working with social media, industry and civil society groups, combating propaganda and the involvement of women and families in any measures.

Australia raised its threat level to high last September and carried out a series of counterterrorism raids.

It introduced a set of national security measures including criminalising travelling abroad to fight and allocating $1.01bn in extra funding to police and security agencies.

The government plans to introduce laws that would allow dual nationals to be stripped of their Australian citizenship if they are suspected of terrorism.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies