Volume 9, Issue 07 (July 2017): ‘IS Ingress in Southeast Asia‘
As the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group evolves into the next phase of its life cycle, it is operationalising its so-called wilayats (governorates) in different parts of the world. In June, with the loss of ground in Iraq and Syria, IS has made significant territorial gains in the Philippines along with carrying out a high profile terrorist attack in Indonesia. The operational strength and sophistication exhibited in these latest developments in Southeast Asia is concerning for three particular reasons.
First, IS will stay alive and relevant through its wilayats notwithstanding its defeat in the Middle East. This could result in higher levels of violence and radicalisation in the regions where IS might turn its attention. The ability of the so-called Caliphate to operate in the online and offline spheres has already provided the group a virtual sanctuary to survive and stay relevant despite real world defeats.
Second, with the seige of Marawi in the Philippines by IS, the city and surrounding areas may emerge as a new hub for IS supporters, sympathizers and lone-wolf fighters. In its latest issue of Rumiyah, the terror group has encouraged its supporters to relocate to Marawi if they cannot migrate to Iraq or Syria. This might galvanise a new wave of pro-IS fighters in Southeast Asia. IS has already prepared them for the setbacks in the Levant and provided them with sufficient religious grounds to press on with their ‘struggle’ through its propaganda machinery. The porous and heavily forested terrain and cluster of small islands with almost no control of the government in southern Philippines suits IS designs to fortify and consolidate its footprint in the region. It will require concerted efforts under the auspices of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to counter IS gains in the region. Even though Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia have done remarkably well to check the security challenge posed by IS, more needs to be done in places like the Philippines and Thailand with coordinated operational efforts and timely intelligence sharing.
Third, IS online followers, supporters and sympathisers are now moving from open social media platforms to encrypted ones such as Telegram, Whatsapp and WeChat. This adds a new layer of complexity to keep track of vulnerable segments of youth susceptible to radicalism and disrupt any terrorist plots that may be planned and executed through communication in encrypted social medial platforms. Various Social Media Companies (SMCs), law enforcement agencies, academia and civil society organisations (SCOs) will have to team up and redouble their efforts to discuss how to deal with the challenge of cyber radicalism. Further procrastination in operationalising stronger social media strategies to counter violent radicalism will hamper efforts to curtail the spread of extremist propaganda and avert terrorist attacks.
Equally important is the realm of counter-ideology and promotion of religious moderation. A strong rebuttal of Sunni extremist groups’ exploitation of Quranic verses and other religious texts to further their narrow agendas serves to de-legitimise their efforts. Once the ideological appeal of these groups is neutralised, it will be easier to counter them operationally. Terrorist groups can survive loss of sanctuary and decapitation of the top leaders, but ideological de-legitimization deprives them of the moral support they enjoy among the vulnerable social segments.
These are some of the issues which the current issue of CTTA discusses at length highlighting: a) Marawi: A Game Changer in Terrorism in Asia by Rohan Gunaratna, b) The Evolution of Online Extremism in Malaysia by Nur Azlin Mohamed Yasin, c) A Rebuttal of Al-Qaeda and IS’ Theological Justification of Suicide Bombing by Muhammad Haniff Hassan and d) Abrogation and the Verse of the Sword: Addressing Sunni Extremists’ Misappropriation of Concept and Verse by Mahfuh Halimi
Conflict and Stability / Counter Terrorist Trends and Analyses / Southeast Asia and ASEAN / Terrorism Studies
Last updated on 17/09/2019