Southeast Asia is no stranger to terrorist attacks. In 1995, Abu Sayyaf militants raided the predominantly Christian town of Ipil in southern Philippines, killing more than 50 people after robbing banks and stores and burning the town centre.
In 2002 and 2005, there were a series of bombings in Bali that killed a total of 222 people. Southeast Asia has also seen dozens of kidnappings and cases of terrorists being holed up in parts of southern Philippines, eastern part of Sabah and eastern Indonesia.Some of the local militant groups have links with al-Qaeda.
More recently the threat of ISIS in Southeast Asia looms. In the last few month, ISIS has started to move into the region so as to make Southeast Asia part of its caliphate, an Islamic state. The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) is also known as Islamic State. This group is bent on attacking people in places deemed to be un-Islamic or not extreme enough. ISIS members had confessed that the group was planning to launch attacks on several nightspots in Kuala Lumpur and the Carlsberg factory in Petaling Jaya, and on Putrajaya. (See: Malaysia should officially ban ISIS)
ISIS is much better organised in that it has a military approach in spreading its influence with an over-arching set of strategies and a strong centralised leadership. Al-Qaeda has more of the attack-and-run style, and the groups affiliated with it seem to be operating relatively independent. ISIS has also used social media to the fullest, and has a steady source of funds. A grouping such as this would be very appealing to the dissatisfied and disillusioned in Southeast Asia.
Already groups in southern Philippines and Indonesia have rallied behind ISIS. For this reason, Asean should come together to fight the spread of ISIS influence and to stop their plan to make Southeast Asia part of their caliphate. Asean has a lot to lose if the grouping fails to stop ISIS in Southeast Asia from further advancing.
Asean is the fourth largest exporting region in the world. It is the most diverse and fast-moving competitive region in the world. All this would be lost if the region was riddled with terror attacks and violence.
ISIS presence in Southeast Asia
- Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the largest Muslim rebel group in the Philippines, has condemned extremist jihadists in Iraq and Syria, and vowed to stop the spread of their “virus” into the Southeast Asian nation.
- Another Philippine rebel group Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) claims Sunni preachers have been conducting recruitment for ISIS members.
- Al-Qaeda affiliate Abu Sayyaf pledges allegiance to ISIS.
- Earlier reports say Malaysian women are offering sexual jihad or Jihad Al-Nikah to ISIS members. Malaysia denies claims.
- There were two postings on ‘JIM-Jamaah ISIS Malaysia’ Facebook page calling for the beheading of Dayaks because they were non-Muslims. Dayaks are a people group in Sarawak.
- Malaysian Ahmad Tarmimi Maliki, 26, is said to be the first ISIS martyr. He reportedly drove a military vehicle carrying explosives into Iraq’s special forces headquarters in Anbar, killing 25 soldiers and himself on May 26, 2014.
- The Malaysian police arrested 15 men for their alleged links to ISIS. One of them was a 30-year-old naval officer who had been in service for 10 years.
- The Singapore government said that a handful of Singaporeans had gone to fight in Syria.
- Jailed cleric and terrorist Abu Bakar Bashir told his followers to support ISIS. The message was sent through the leader of the Jamaah Anshorut Tauhid, a group designated a terrorist organisation by the US. This group is said to be raising funds to send fighters abroad.
- There may be at least 500 Indonesians who have joined ISIS. One 19-year-old fighter identified as Wildan Mukahallad died in a suicide attack in Baghdad.
- A few hundred Muslim scholars and activists gathered in Jakarta to pledge their support for ISIS. Among then were Abu Sholih Attamarowi and journalist M. Fachry.
- About 200 Indonesians are in Syria fighting for ISIS. About 30 Malaysians are said to be in ISIS in Syria, out of which 15 were killed.
- “Mujahidin” groups have been recruiting Malaysians using social media and usrah (family) sessions. Mujahidin means those doing jihad.
- With 20 million rupiah (about US$ 2,000), these young jihadists can fly to Syria and get real combat experience, compared to just a hiking session they get in Indonesia. (See: Terrorism in Indonesia: ISIS and Release of Terrorists)
How ISIS members use social media in Southeast Asia
- Robert Musa Cerantonio is an Australian Muslim convert living in the Philippines but deported to Australia for trying to incite Muslim men in the Philippines to fight in the Middle East. He is said to the third most ‘liked’ extremist preacher on Facebook. His Twitter account is still alive and posts numerous recruitment video clips of him preaching. He is walking about freely in Australia, and is not under detention.
- There are video clips on YouTube of armed men, with faces covered, speaking in a Filipino language and Arabic pledging allegiance before an ISIS flag.
- In another video, dozens of Filipino prisoners are gathered in a jail hall, shouting slogans in front of a black flag with white lettering and vowing loyalty to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
- ISIS media arm Al Hayat releases videos with subtitles for a more international audience. Al Hayat also publishes an online newsletter translated into English.
- After the clampdown by Twitter and YouTube on ISIS, they started using the open-source social network Diaspora – where the content is impossible to remove.
- ISIS developed an android smartphone app called “The Dawn of Glad Tidings” in April. The app has since been taken down.
- Malaysians Ahmad Salman Abdul Rahim and Mohd Lotfi Ariffin are two of a group of Malaysians in Hama, Syria who claim to be engaged in jihad, fighting against Bashar al-Assad. They have released numerous videos to give Malaysians a glimpse of their jihad. They have even been interviewed by the Malaysian mainstream media via Facebook.
What are Southeast Asian countries doing to curb ISIS in Southeast Asia
- In Indonesia, Muslim leaders publicly condemned ISIS and the government criminalised support for the group. The government has also banned video clips on YouTube that promote ISIS teachings. Indonesia feels that the ISIS ideology does not fit with the ideology of Pancasila.
- Malaysia strongly condemns the actions of ISIS. The police are monitoring social media to pick out content used to influence and recruit young Malaysians to join the militant movement and to arrest those behind it.
- Singapore has condemned ISIS and called their actions “barbaric”. The government is detaining those flying off to Syria. There are joint efforts by Muslim groups to educate young Muslims on peace education and to counter the radical misinterpretation of Islam by members of the Jemaah Islamiyah group in Singapore.
- Philippines says none of its citizens has joined ISIS. But its armed forces are keeping their eyes peeled.
Fast Facts About ISIS
- Also known as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Islamic State (IS).
- It is led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, aka Caliph Ibrahim.
- Started as an al Qaeda splinter group. Bad blood between these two groups cause them to go separate ways in February 2014.
- Aim is to create an Islamic state across Sunni areas of Iraq and in Syria, and around the world.
- ISIS is known for killing dozens of people at a time and carrying out public executions, crucifixions and other acts.
- The group orders women to stay home, banned smoking and drinking and warned of harsh consequences under Sharia or Islamic law.
- The group currently controls hundreds of square miles. It ignores international borders and has a presence from Syria’s Mediterranean coast to south of Baghdad.
- ISIS fighters are Sunnis. The tension between Iraqi Shias and Iraqi Sunnis is a powerful recruiting tool for ISIS. A majority of Iraqis are Shias, and a huge part of the Muslim world outside Iraq is Sunni. This includes Southeast Asia.
- ISIS doesn’t depend on foreign aid to survive. In Syria, they have a mini-state: collecting taxes, selling electricity, and exporting oil to fund its militant activities.
- They now control seven oil fields and two refineries in Iraq, and six oil fields in Syria – extracting at least 40,000 barrels a day. They sell all this oil at US$25 to $60 a barrel. Brent crude is currently over US$100 on the London ICE Futures Europe exchange.
- They are making roughly US$2 million a day, and everything paid for in cash or bartered goods. No one knows who’s buying their oil, but the oil flows to Turkey and Jordan.
- ISIS behaves more like a military force where they move in and conquer cities and territories. Unlike al-Qaeda that does one spectacular attack. Which is why ISIS call what they are doing a war, why the rest of the world call it mass murders, mass rapes, mass tortures and mass destruction.
- As of July, ISIS has reportedly killed 1,600 people in conflicts.
About the Web
- MNLF official: ISIS recruitment in Mindanao possible (www.philstar.com)
- Radical preacher back in Melbourne after deportation from Philippines (www.theguardian.com)
- Islamic State’s support spreads into Asia (www.aljazeera.com)
- More locals joining militant groups (www.nst.com.my)
- Religious Rehabilitation Group ‘invaluable’ in maintaining harmony: PM Lee (m.todayonline.com)