A little more than a week after the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) began its march to capture
This is only the latest flashpoint in a long-evolving, global threat exposed by the 9/11 attacks.
The group traces its roots to al-Qaeda in
led by the ruthless Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who tried to ignite a sectarian war
between Sunni and Shiite – and nearly succeeded. Iraq
The pullout of US troops in 2011 in
well as the power vacuum in Syria,
created conditions that one
official called “the Super Bowl of jihad.” US
More than 12,000 Muslim extremists have travelled to
to fight in just 3 years,
according to a report by the Soufan Group, a private security company.
That’s more than the 10,000 estimated to have fought in
in the late 80s, the
conflict that spawned al-Qaeda. Afghanistan
“That’s why so much of the world is today focused on
,” said US Ambassador to the
Philippines Philip Goldberg, who for 3 years, was Assistant Secretary of State
for the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. “And why this has been a very
troubling moment as ISIS, which went up into Syria to fight jihad there, are
returning to Iraq to their roots with many foreign fighters in tow – including
those who may be there from East Asia or other places in the world, including
the United States," he told Rappler
in an interview on Tuesday, June 17. Iraq
The FBI estimated last May that about 70 fighters from the
travelled to fight in Syria,
including the first known American suicide
bomber from .
Intelligence sources disclosed that about 200 Australians, 50 Indonesians and about 20 Malaysians have gone to fight the jihad in
. Syria Singapore
said it’s investigating one Singaporean, while a Filipino intelligence source
said at least one Filipino linked to Abu Sayyaf has gone to . Syria
Social media targets Indonesia
On June 9, the day ISIS began its march to capture
video of Indonesian men in
was posted on YouTube. Syria
In a little more than 11 minutes, hooded men holding their Kalashnikovs, speak in Bahasa Indonesia with snippets of Arabic. They urge their countrymen to join
ISIS: “Let us fight in the path of Allah because it is
our duty to do jihad in the path of Allah.”
"They work underground even though we hit them hard," Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono told me. "They have the capability to consolidate, to reorganize, and try to find the opportunity to strike us again. There are many smaller organizations. There are many branches that developed, but actually the mainstream remains. Al-Qaeda is the big brother," Yudhoyono added.
The fear now is that
Syria is functioning
did in the late 80s. Afghanistan
Goldberg explained: “It’s a situation where
became a central focal point
for these groups and for international jihadists. People just want to get to a
fight – some of them not even understanding exactly what it is.” Syria
That includes Southeast Asia and
the countries where cells of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) were discovered after 9/11. Australia
On Friday, June 13, Malaysian police arrested 3 Malaysians, including a Royal Malaysian Navy officer, in an operation led by its Special Branch Counter-Terrorism Division in
Sandakan on the east coast of Sabah.
Police said they were members of a group linked to ISIS in
and the Abu Sayyaf, a notorious group in the southern
that has swung back and forth from its al-Qaeda roots to crime. Philippines
Malaysian authorities said they have arrested 15 other members of the same group since April 28.
The men, according to a Special Branch source, were planning to fight in
Syria and then “launch suicide bombings in .” Iraq
They allegedly trained in the southern
where Southeast Asia's most wanted, JI leaders
Malaysian Marwan and Singaporean Muawiyah, have found shelter and continue to
Intelligence sources in the
told Rappler that may well be true. Although curtailed significantly in the
past decade and dampened by a signed peace agreement between the government and
the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, once JI's main partner in the Philippines ,
training still continues. Philippines
The more extremist BIFF, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), continues to train and shelter members of JI, a charge the group denies.
Last week, the Philippine military and police wounded bomb-maker Abdul Basit Usman, a main link between JI and the Abu Sayyaf. He carries a $1 million reward for his capture under the US Rewards for Justice program.
Ground commander Lt. Col. Donald Hongitan said troops located a JI explosives manufacturing facility.
“During the raid Usman was there. He was wounded as per report from our operating troops in the field,” he said, adding that “This proves BIFF is not only coddling Jemaah Islamiyah but it seems they have strong ties.”
Although rarely publicly acknowledged, that has never been disputed. The ties are traced and documented in my book, "From Bin Laden to Facebook."
Fighters associated with JI in the Philippines use the same black flag that's used by ISIS and which sprouted in more than 20 countries after the Benghazi attacks in Libya.
On Saturday, June 14, The Star of Malaysia reported 27 year old Ahmad Tarmimi Maliki became “
’s first suicide bomber,”
driving a military SUV full of tons of explosives into SWAT headquarters in
al-Anbar on May 26. He killed 25 elite Malaysia Iraq
soldiers shortly before an ISIS attack.
On Sunday, June 15, members of Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT) marched around and disrupted street musicians in the Indonesian city of
Solo, waving ISIS flags and
proudly displaying ISIS symbols.
New generation of terrorists
“JAT is the new camouflage of JI,” Ansyaad Mbai, the chief of
Counter-Terrorism Agency (BNPT) told me. “It has the same leader, Abu Bakar
Ba’asyir, and most of the key figures of JAT are also JI so I call this the new
jacket of JI.” Indonesia
Like al-Qaeda, JI’s top and middle leadership has been degraded – arrested or killed by law enforcement. The cells, however, remained and have mutated.
The first Indonesian jihadist to die in
for example, went to school in the notorious Pondok Ngruki, founded by JI (now
JAT) leader Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, the school of many of the Bali 2002 bombers. Syria
At least 16 out of 26 of the 2002 Bali bombers either attended or were associated with one of three JI-linked schools: Al-Mukmin in Pondok Ngruki, Lukmanul Hakim in
Malaysia, and Al-Islam in East
Java. Association with Lukmanul Hakim "increases the probability
by more than 23% that a jihadi will play a major role in an attack."
The names may change, but the social networks and virulent ideology remain the same.
The fear is that fighters from
Syria – like
the Bali bombers – will return home and carry
out attacks using tactics they honed in battle. So far, there's only been one
known instance of this happening: 3 weeks ago, a French-Algerian who had fought
a year with ISIS in Syria
was arrested for a deadly attack on the Jewish Museum in . Brussels
"We were very concerned when we saw a video of an American who ended up in
involved in a suicide bombing," said Goldberg. "These are issues of
concern because the same people who go in, if they're from European or American
background can travel more easily if they're not identified or known. So this
has stirred quite a bit of concern in all corners, not just in Syria but around
the world." Washington
If history repeats itself, according to the Soufan report, then “the Syrian war is likely to be an incubator for a new generation of terrorists.”