South-East Asia likely to face more Islamic State attacks

Chin’s voice quivered as she recalled her brush with death when two Islamic State terrorists threw a grenade at a cafe in Kuala Lumpur last month, injuring eight people.

“I and three of my friends were among the patrons in the restaurant,” she told dpa, asking not to be identified by her real name. “We were lucky that none of us were hurt but the explosion left us sleepless at night.

It was the first successful terrorist attack by Islamic State in Malaysia

A few days later, an Islamic State suicide bomber blew himself in police station in neighbouring Indonesia.

Meanwhile, Abu Sayyaf Muslim rebels in the Philippines – who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State – beheaded two Canadian hostages within the past two months and threatened to behead another.

The Philippine militants have successfully launched attacks on at least five vessels in the Sulu Sea-Celebes Sea area, holding sailors for ransom on the southern island of Jolo.

Security analysts warn that South-East Asia is likely to suffer more terror attacks as Islamic State suffers setbacks in Iraq and Syria, where they are waging a protracted holy war to establish a caliphate.

“The more IS comes under siege in the Middle East, the more it will be motivated to strike targets outside the region,” said Bilveeer Singh, a political science professor at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological Institute.

“In South-East Asia, this could lead to attacks by IS returnees and supporters, including by non-South-East Asian jihadists such as the Uighurs and Arabs.”

Indonesia, with the largest Muslim population in the world, has suffered the brunt of Islamic State terrorism in the region, including a January 14 bombing in Jakarta’s commercial district.

Among the 10 members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations, Indonesia has the highest number of militants joining Islamic State, according to national police chief Badrodin Haiti.

The Foreign Ministry reported that 217 Indonesians involved in the jihadi organization have been repatriated from Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Malaysia.

Indonesia’s neighbour Malaysia is also predominantly Muslim, about 60 per cent of its more than 30 million population. It has an estimated 100 militants fighting in Syria and Iraq.

Malaysian counter-terrorism chief Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay said 213 citizens and foreign supporters of IS have been detained in the government’s crackdown against the extremists since 2013.

In the Philippines, an undetermined number of Islamic State supporters was believed to have already gone to Syria and Iraq. Even the predominantly ethnic-Chinese island state of Singapore has arrested at least two citizens for involvement in Islamic State activities.

“While there are only a few hundred citizens from across South-East Asia and Australia fighting with ISIS, as the experience in Indonesia has shown, even a small number of trained and motivated former militants can leave a devastating terrorism legacy,” said Fergus Hanson, a fellow at the Washington-based Brookings Institution.

“A national terror network can be difficult enough to combat, but a regionally organized grouping presents even greater challenges.”

Rakyan Adibrata, an Indonesian terrorism analyst, said the proliferation of social media reaches the widest possible audience to spread the propaganda.

“IS supporters would argue that IS led by Al Baghdadi may not be the best caliphate for now, but it would be the milestone for the foundation of a wider and stronger caliphate,” he told dpa.

Andrin Raj, regional director for the International Association for Counterterrorism and Security Professionals, said social media can be a platform for recruiting, but that interpersonal influence runs deeper.

“Face-to-face indoctrination is what makes recruits become suicide bombers,” he said.

Raj said closing down jihadi social media sites would not stop the spread of radical Islamic ideology.

He said governments should pay more attention to religious schools, which are vulnerable to infiltration by radicals, because these are not properly regulated.

In the meantime, people will have to learn to live with the constant threat that is becoming a new reality.

Chin, who suffered minor contusions in the Malaysian explosion, said it is no longer possible to feel safe.

"My friends and I hang around each other’s houses. We avoid public places,” she said. 

“These people are ruthless. They can strike anywhere. I don’t think the police can catch all of them."

Last update: Tue, 19/07/2016 - 11:26
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