Volume 9, Issue 09 (September 2017): ‘Diverse and Enduring Terrorist Threat‘
This September marked the sixteenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the US by Al-Qaeda. Since then, the global terrorist threat situation has gotten worse. Despite the invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, forty percent of the former is under the Taliban control while until late last year, large swathes of territory in Iraq and neighbouring Syria were under the control of the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group, which broke away from Al-Qaeda and established a so-called ‘Caliphate’ in 2014. The killing of Al-Qaeda’s chief Osama Bin Laden in 2011 and IS emergence undermined Al-Qaeda’s position as the leader of global jihad.
However, Al-Qaeda’s threat is far from over despite its low profile in recent years. As IS is losing ground in the Middle East, its main jihadist rival Al-Qaeda is catching up. While the international community was fixated with fighting the IS threat, Al-Qaeda has silently regrouped, reorganised and rebuilt its ideological and operational ties with local militant groups in Africa and Asia. The transnational jihadist group is not only well-entrenched within these two regions, it also poses an enduring terrorist threat of a qualitatively different nature. It has shifted its focus from the “far-enemy” (attacking the US and its Western allies) to the “near-enemy” i.e. helping local and regional ‘jihadist’ and insurgent groups in local conflicts.
Reflecting these developments, Farhan Zahid discusses the emergence of a pro-Al-Qaeda militant group Jamat Ansar Al-Shariah in Pakistan. Al-Qaeda’s policy of ‘wait and see’ appears to have paid off as the group re-strategise and escalate its activities in the ungoverned spaces of Pakistan and Afghanistan. US President Donald Trump’s new Afghanistan-South Asia Policy that will prolong the war in Afghanistan provides Al-Qaeda with a suitable propaganda narrative for new recruits.
Similarly, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is attempting to exploit the ongoing persecution of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar to mobilise fighters. On 3 September, AQAP leader Khalid bin Umar Batarfi issued a video message urging Muslims in Bangladesh, Indonesia and Malaysia to support the Rohingya and directed its sister organisation AQIS to launch attacks in Myanmar. The Rohingya crisis and jihadist groups’ attempt to exploit the issue can have negative implications for Bangladesh’s national security as discussed by Iftekharul Bashar.
Alarmingly, the Rohingya crisis has resulted in a groundswell of support among Southeast Asian ‘jihadists’, specifically from Indonesia, with calls to relocate to Myanmar’s Rakhine state to wage jihad. An Indonesian militant group Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) issued a call for ‘jihadist’ volunteers to defend the Rohingya, raising the dangers of Southeast Asian ‘jihadists’ making their way to Myanmar. The perceived lack of adequate response and initiative by neighbouring countries and the international community have turned the plight of stateless Rohingya into a festering wound that the ‘jihadists’ are now exploiting to their advantage.
This issue also takes a look at how the Indonesian police is fighting the twin threats posed by Al-Qaeda, IS, and other violent Islamist elements as well as separatist (ethno-nationalist) groups in the country. Police General Muhammad Tito Karnavian explains the different nature of the two threats, and provides a perspective of Indonesia’s strategies, using both ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ approaches to deal with the two different sets of “insurgents”. While counter-ideology efforts are critical in defeating the Islamists, economic development and raising living standards are key to dealing with the separatists. The article concludes with recommendations that includes community policing, preventative measures, rehabilitation efforts and stronger legislation.
Beyond Indonesia, Marguerite Borelli takes a critical look at the efforts of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) to counter the persistent terrorist threat in the region. ASEAN has developed a substantive counter-terrorism arsenal since the September 11 attacks, and has served as a viable forum on counter-terrorism issues. However, while substantive, its arsenal still remains insufficient. She highlights the counter-terrorism insufficiencies created by structural factors and the lack of preventative counter-terrorism measures within the current framework. She argues that ASEAN’s lack of responsiveness to contemporary developments and a general lack of political appetite for collective security and responsibility in the region have prevented it from acting as a driving force and an architect of regional counter-terrorism. There is however a strong impetus for regional cooperation and collaboration given the transnational nature of the terrorist threat and problems linked to returning IS fighters from the Middle East and Marawi City.
Commentaries / Conflict and Stability / Country and Region Studies / East Asia and Asia Pacific / Southeast Asia and ASEAN / Terrorism Studies
Last updated on 29/11/2017