Saturday, July 9, 2016

Islamic State and Southeast Asia

From the Asia Sentinel (Jul 8): Islamic State and Southeast Asia

Islamic State and Southeast Asia

 Attacks in Malaysia, Indonesia generate concerns

On June 28, Malaysia joined the ranks of countries under attack by the Islamic State when male suspects tossed mini-hand grenades onto the patio of the upscale Movida Bar and Lounge in a mall in the Kuala Lumpur suburb of Puchong, wounding eight patrons.

Police later rounded up Mohd Saifuddin Muji and Jasanizam Rosni, two of those suspected of throwing the grenades, and said they were hunting for two more.

Inspector General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar told reporters later that the suspects had received orders from Muhammad Wanndy Mohamed Jedi, who had joined ISIS in Syria, to launch attacks on senior leaders of the government, police and judges.

Later, as the Malaysian police dragnet expanded, as many as 15 persons were taken into custody including two low-ranking police officers. So far, police say, they have rolled up as many as nine separate plots related to ISIS since 2014. This is the first that was actually carried out.

“It’s the first,” said a Malay lawyer. “The next one will be worse.” But so far, police intelligence officials in Southeast Asia have been remarkably successful at foiling jihadi plots. And the jihadis in some instances seem to have been largely incompetent, although that could change. However, the Malaysia incident, and another on July 5 in which a jihadi reportedly allied with IS attempted to blow up a police station but killed himself, has raised regional concerns about IS’s ability to exploit weaknesses. Across the Middle East in recent days, hundreds of Muslims have died in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and other countries as IS operatives, threatened by the steadily collapsing borders of their caliphate, have resorted to murderous attacks.

While the Malays involved in the incident were hardly successful, killing nobody, it puts the prosperous, moderate Southeast Asian country onto the scoreboard. Police in the Southeast region have been on heightened alert for the past two years, since it became evident that Muslims seduced by the idea of the caliphate, have left the region for Syria and Iraq to fight with the radicals. In December, police estimated as many as 100 Malaysians were in the Levant. Transport Minister Liow Tiong told reporters that at least 50,000 people in Malaysia supported the Islamic State’s aims. But authorities in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore have detained locals seeking passage to the Middle East, and have detained Southeast Asians trying to return to start trouble.

However, either because of logistical problems or a lack of appetite for violence, Southeast Asia so far is remarkably far down the list in providing fighters for IS. A Feb. 8 study by the Washington, DC-based Brookings Institution quoted a study by the Australian scholar Greg Fealy estimating that for every million people in Indonesia, 1.4 have set out to join ISIS. In Malaysia, the number is 8.5. But 14 per million Australians, 18 per million French, and 40 per million Belgians have joined ISIS. As many as 31,000 potential combatants are estimated to have found their way to the proposed caliphate. Southeast Asia statistically doesn’t show up on the chart.

” The fact that Southeast Asia is not yet on the radar of the core ISIS leadership, however, or that the number of Southeast Asians fighting under the ISIS standard pales in comparison with the number of Europeans or Australians, should not be grounds for complacency,” according to the Brookings paper. “ISIS will always struggle to gain considerable popularity in Southeast Asia. The social, political, economic, and cultural conditions in Indonesia and Malaysia are such that the appeal of the ISIS brand of extremism will always remain limited. Even in Thailand and the Philippines, where Muslim minorities suffer more persecution, the conditions they face are nowhere near those confronted by alienated Muslims in Europe.”

The only earlier attack definitely traced to IS occurred Jan. 14 in Indonesia, when four perpetrators launched a mid-morning attack in the busy Sarinah area of Jakarta. Two bombs were detonated at a Starbucks CafĂ© and a traffic police post, with a third bomb exploding in the face of one of the jihadists. Three improvised grenades were also thrown at police and two of the attackers drew guns and fired on the police and bystanders.
The main effect was that all four attackers died, as well as four civilians, including one foreigner, a Canadian. In the following days, the perpetrators were identified as Dian Juni Kurniadi, Ahmad Muhazan, Muhammad Ali and Sunakim alias Afif.

It was the first attack in
Southeast Asia with a confirmed endorsement from the s- called Islamic State (IS). Shortly after the operation IS claimed responsibility and subsequent investigations have confirmed the perpetrators’ pro-IS orientation.

The attack itself was amateurish and the perpetrators must surely have planned for a far higher death toll than four civilians, especially given that hundreds of people were in the vicinity. They would particularly have hoped to kill multiple policemen and foreigners, their main targets.

Even if extremists were eventually able to attempt to create their own caliphate in southeast Asia, as some members of the criminal gang Abu Sayyaf have threatened in the Philippines, according to the Brookings paper its origins are more likely to stem from the fringes of society in southern Thailand, where a nativist insurrection has been cooking for decades, in rural Indonesia, where jihadist organizations such as Jemaah Islamiyah have functioned as well, or in Mindanao. 

The real danger “is not that the black banner of ISIS will be raised the world over but that the appearance of ISIS would trigger dynamics among existing jihadist groups and personal networks within Indonesia, possibly joined by groups from the Philippines and Malaysia, that may well escalate into further violence.”

IS has called for jihadis across the region to regroup in Mindanao, where a low-grade Muslim insurgency has bubbled for decades, rising and falling in intensity. The Abu Sayyaf, the most violent group, are largely regarded as criminals masquerading as Islamists, although their leader recently vowed fealty to the Middle Eastern organization.

Although the Philippine congress has refused to ratify the far-reaching Bangsamoro agreement put together by outgoing President Benigno S. Aquino III, and it appears unlikely they will deliver it to the new president, Rodrigo Duterte, Duterte as mayor of Davao City was arguably more effective at engaging Muslims. This week, for the first time, he ordered Eid’l Fitr, the celebration at the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, to be a national holiday. That is an important signal that this predominantly Catholic country recognizes the validity of Islam. At the same time, he has declared the eradication of Abu Sayyaf a major priority. Most Muslims are not likely to care.

US Naval Rear Admiral Bolivar leads turnover ceremony of classrooms in Albay

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 9): US Naval Rear Admiral Bolivar leads turnover ceremony of classrooms in Albay

United States Navy Rear Admiral Bette Bolivar of US Naval Command led on Friday the turnover ceremony of a two-classroom building to a public school in Kinawitan, Daraga in Albay.

The school building is part of the Humanitarian Mission of the ongoing Pacific Partnership 2016 in the province of Albay.

Starting her speech in the Filipino langauage, Bolivar greeted the Albayanos, specially the students of Kinawitan school: “Magandang hapon at mabuhay kayo lahat”.

"Thank you for the honor for having me here today, as well as the unveiling of the recent renovation and construction of the classroom here in your school," she continued.

Bolivar said for the Pacific Partnership 2016, the Engineering Civic Action Program (ENCAP) affords them another great opportunity to build a poster relationship with the Filipino community.

Bolivar added, “Para sa atin mga kabatan at sa atin kinabukasan” (for our children and for our future) over the last month and a half, engineers from the United States Navy, United States Marine Corps, Guam National Guard and Hawaii National Guard and our Philippine Counterpart Army worked together to construct these new buildings and with rest rooms and renovated other existing classrooms to accommodate Kinawitan growing students population.

Now, the students have designated classrooms that will improve the learning environment, Bolivar said.

The project will not just benefit the students but also the residents of the area for it will also serve as a shelter during any natural disaster, a safe haven for the families seeking help or shelter from any catastrophe, she emphasized.

Phil. Army Lt. Col Baylon Aler of the Army Engineering Brigade in an interview with Philippines News Agency said for the engineering component of the project, the joint team of engineers finished construction works of two-classrooms building with comfort rooms including repair works of other classrooms in barangays Cotmon, in Camalig, Kinawitan in Daraga and a water tank and lavatory in Mabini Elementary school in barangay Mabini, Daraga all in Albay.

Bolivar, a Bicolana by blood, is the first Filipino Fil-Am Admiral in the US Naval Command.

She entered the Naval Academy with the blessing of her father Teddy and mother Virginia, both Filipinos. Her father is from Nabua, Camarines Sur while her mother hails from Pangasinan. Bolivar said she was raised in a traditional Filipino household.

The two-week Pacific Partnership 2016 humanitarian and disaster relief preparedness mission that will last until July 11 has ongoing medical, dental services, including construction and repair of school buildings in poor villages of Camalig, Daraga, and the cities of Legazpi, Tabaco and Ligao.

Pacific Partnership is an annual deployment of forces from the Pacific Fleet of the United States Navy (USN), in cooperation with regional governments and military forces, along with humanitarian and non-government organizations.

Zambo police arrest Abu Sayyaf Group supporter

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 9): Zambo police arrest Abu Sayyaf Group supporter

The police have arrested in a raid early Saturday a suspected supported of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in an east coast barangay this city.

Chief Inspector Edilberto Alvarez, Intelligence chief of the Zamboanga City Police Office (ZCPO), identified the arrested suspect as Hasbi Ahaddin, a resident of Sitio Marangan, Barangay Muti, 58.80 kilometers east of City Hall.

Alvarez said Ahaddin was arrested around 4:30 a.m. Saturday in his residence in Barangay Muti, which is a coastal village.

Alvarez said Ahaddin was arrested when they served search warrants on two houses in Barangay Muti on orders of the court in relation to the June 29 twin roadside bombings in the area.

A motorcyclist, who was on the way to attend a funeral in Barangay Vitali, was injured during the incident.

Alvarez said Ahaddin is allegedly a member of a locally-based kidnap-for-ransom-group (KFRG) headed by a certain Marzan Ajilul.
He said Ajilul has ties with ASG leader Furuji Indama, whose group is based in Basilan.

He added that Ahaddin is also providing refuge to other members of lawless group from nearby areas coming to this city.

Hataman: No signs of hostages in Basilan

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 9): Hataman: No signs of hostages in Basilan

Gov. Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) said there are no signs that the Sulu-based Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) has transferred their hostages to this province.

Hataman issued the statement after he disclosed that there were Sulu-based ASG brigands who had fled to this province to escape from the continuous military offensive in the province of Sulu.

“I’m sure there are no hostages, we have information there are no hostages here. They (ASG brigands) transferred here due to (the military) pressure in nearby Sulu,” Hataman said.

The ASG brigands are still holding captives nine foreigners and three Filipinos in the province of Sulu.

The foreigners included a Dutchman birdwatcher, a Norwegian and seven Indonesian sailors.

Maj. Filemon Tan Jr., Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) spokesman said the Joint Task Force Sulu continued to conduct focused military operations.

Westmincom received intelligence report that nine ASG brigands were killed while 13 wounded when the troops pounded on Thursday the ASG position in Barangay Kabuntakas, Patikul, Sulu.

Hataman said based on reports he received, there were about 200 ASG brigands operating in this province.

“Ang nagparami sa kanila ay yon taga Sulu, Zamboanga Sibugay, and Marangan, Zamboanga City,” Hataman said.

Marangan is a sitio in Barangay Muti, Zamboanga City, which Hataman said around 30 ASG brigands came from the area and joined their comrades in this province.

He disclosed they learned there were some ASG brigands from Zamboanga Sibugay here since one of them was arrested by the military in the nearby town of Al-Barka.

He said the ASG brigands staged the attack on Wednesday in Tipo-Tipo as they wanted to instill fear among the residents in the area.

“Hindi namin papayagan at hindi namin hahayaan na gagawin nila yon,” he said.

Hataman met with the provincial, city and municipal officials of this province and discussed measures to address the problem on peace and order of this province.

AFP awards medals to soldiers wounded in Sulu clash

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 9): AFP awards medals to soldiers wounded in Sulu clash

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Saturday awarded medals to the five soldiers who were wounded in the latest clash with the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) brigands in the province of Sulu.

Gen. Ricardo Visaya, AFP chief-of-staff, personally pinned the medals to the wounded soldiers who were admitted at Camp Navarro General Hospital in this city.

Lt. Gen. Mayoralgo Dela Cruz, Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) chief, assisted Visaya in the awarding of medals to the recipient-soldiers.

Awarded the Wounded Personnel Medal (WPM) were Cpl. Ian Dexter Gavina; Cpl. Rambo Balnawi; PFC Radel Gumban; PFC Christian Naganag; and, PFC Bernie Joe Nagoy.

They were wounded in an intense fighting against 150 ASG brigands, led by ASG senior leader Radulan Sahiron and sub-leader Hadjan Sawajaan on Thursday in Patikul, Sulu.

Intelligence report showed that nine Abu Sayyaf bandits were killed while 13 wounded when the troops pounded them with artillery.

Visaya visited Westmincom to get first hand information of the ongoing focus military operations against the ASG brigands in the provinces of Sulu and Basilan.

“I am here now to see how Westmincom implemented our plans (against the ASG),” Visaya said.

He said the troops were directed to ensure the safety of the hostages as they were ordered to continuously pursue the ASG brigands.

The ASG brigands are still holding captives nine foreigners and three Filipinos in the province of Sulu.

The foreigners included a Dutchman birdwatcher, a Norwegian and seven Indonesian sailors.

Visaya said the focus military operations against the ASG brigands had no time frame.