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Managing the Return of Foreign Terrorist Fighters in Southeast Asia: Complexities and Challenges
24 May 2021

The International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, RSIS, organised a webinar on “Managing the Return of Foreign Terrorist Fighters in Southeast Asia: Complexities and Challenges” on 24 May 2021.

The webinar featured two regional experts, Ms Dete Aliah, Founder and Director of Society against Radicalism and Violent Extremism, Jakarta, Indonesia; and Dr Ahmad El-Muhammady, Assistant Professor, International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilisation, International Islamic University Malaysia. The moderator was Dr Noor Huda Ismail, RSIS Visiting Fellow.

Ms Dete provided an overview of Indonesia’s experience in managing the return of its nationals who fought in Syria and Iraq, as well as their family members. A key pillar of the national strategy was the engagement of local and provincial authorities to monitor and support returnees and their families. Despite the complex nature of needs identified and myriad challenges faced by different levels in the Indonesian government, Ms Dete assessed that the country’s deradicalisation programme has yielded positive results, with no terror acts committed by those who have gone through the programme.

Dr Ahmad’s discussion on Malaysia’s experience centred on the challenges faced by the authorities and others involved including academics in the official deradicalisation effort . He highlighted that Malaysia’s policy on accepting returning foreign fighters is based on the country’s rule of law. Thorough investigations, judicial processes, and assessments (psychological, ideology, security etc.) are part of Malaysia’s returnee policy. As a rehabilitation practitioner, Dr Ahmad highlighted that there are different categories of Malaysians involved in the wide spectrum of extremist activities. Hence, he felt that the use of the foreign terrorist fighter (FTF) label was unhelpful and required adjustment so that rehabilitation solutions can be customised more effectively.

Both experts agreed that Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) can play an important role in assisting governments in rehabilitating Southeast Asian returnees. Dr Ahmad also called on regional governments to work together in developing risk assessments tools for returnees. Ms Dete emphasised that FTFs pose a challenge to the region as a whole, thus, reinforcing the need for regional collaboration, including CSOs.

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