Prof Rohan Gunaratna delivered a lecture on “The Global Expansion of the Islamic State: The Rising Threat to Asia” on 28 June 2019, at the RSIS Lecture Theatre. The event was chaired by Mr Eddie Lim, Senior Fellow and Head of the Military Studies Programme.
Prof Gunaratna began by tracing the contemporary origins of terrorism in the region. He provided an overview of the origins of Al-Qaeda (AQ), and where and when it was involved in terror activities in Southeast Asia. He then spoke of the present face of regional terrorism, the so-called Islamic State (IS). He focused on how it grew out of AQ, and, more importantly, how it has manifested in Southeast Asia.
Prof Gunaratna described the relations shared between each IS-affiliated group in Southeast Asia, as well as their raison d’être and modus operandi. He also provided a comprehensive update on the threat level posed by these groups in the region collectively. He ended his lecture by reinforcing the importance for governments to know the different IS affiliates within the region well. This includes knowing the names of their leaders and the activities these affiliates have engaged in. Counter-terrorism efforts, he argued, would be significantly stronger with such intimate knowledge.
Prof Gunaratna also encouraged greater regional cooperation as terror attacks by these groups remain a clear-and-present transnational danger, even after the recapture of IS-held territories in the Middle East. He observed that IS fighters fleeing from the region and returning home, would now bring the fight to Southeast Asia.
The lecture was followed by a robust Q&A session.