Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 August 2020

ISIL’s allure causes worry in South East Asia

Indonesia and Malaysia have watched with alarm as scores, possibly even hundreds, of their nationals are believed to have gone to Syria and Iraq to join the fight for a hardline Muslim caliphate.

KUALA LUMPUR // The ISIL militant group’s growing appeal is fanning fears that it could serve as a potent new rallying cry for South East Asian extremists who had been largely brought to heel following past deadly terror attacks.

Authorities in Indonesia – the world’s most populous Islamic country – and Muslim-majority Malaysia have watched with alarm as scores, possibly even hundreds, of their nationals are believed to have gone to Syria and Iraq to join the fight for a hardline Muslim caliphate.

Terrorism analysts are increasingly concerned that these volunteers could import the organisation’s violent ideology upon their return, or inspire supporters back home to carry out deadly attacks.

“There are still many breeding grounds for militancy in parts of the region, and if fighters come back they can strengthen these existing groups, and that’s going to be a major problem,” said Bantarto Bandoro of the Indonesian Defense University.

Already, the Philippine Islamist rebel group Abu Sayyaf has threatened to decapitate a German hostage taken earlier this year, recalling the grisly ISIL beheadings of foreign journalists and an aid worker that caused worldwide revulsion and triggered US airstrikes.

Abu Sayyaf last week demanded a ransom and that Germany cease support for the strikes. The demands have been refused, with Manila dismissing the ultimatum as a cynical ploy to exploit the notoriety of ISIL for profit.

But the group’s actions in Iraq and Syria are drawing troubling comparisons to the 1979-89 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, which drew in volunteer Islamic fighters from around the world to fight the communist “infidels”, including from across South-east Asia.

The hardened militants who returned nurtured a generation of South-east Asian extremists, helping give rise to groups such as Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), which was responsible for deadly attacks including the 2002 Bali bombing that killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists.

Aggressive South-east Asian counter-terror efforts have since dramatically weakened JI and other militant groups, but they remain a threat.

* Agence France-Press

Updated: September 30, 2014 04:00 AM

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