The Defeat of IS & the Southeast Asian Terrorist Threat
October 2017 has been a fateful month for the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group. In Syria, its de facto ‘capital’ Raqqa has fallen to an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters backed by the US-led coalition. Earlier in Hawija, the last remaining IS stronghold in northern Iraq, about 1,000 IS fighters surrendered to Iraqi forces rather than fighting for ‘martyrdom’. Over in Southeast Asia, the Philippines authorities announced the liberation of Marawi after a five-month battle and the killing of IS top leaders, Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute. The string of losses suffered by IS since 2016 nullifies and invalidates the IS slogan of ‘remaining and expanding’ and constitutes a huge symbolic blow to its standing as leader of the global ‘jihadist’ movement.
It is likely that the fall of Raqqa was expected by the top leadership of IS and that plans have been made well in advance for al-Baghdadi and his senior commanders to go into hiding, and for the ‘jihadi’ struggle to persist in some form in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. This is already evident from IS’ decentralisation of its ‘jihad’ and ‘virtualisation’ of its so-called caliphate (from a territory-based entity). The ‘decentralisation of jihad’ through its various wilayats and online presence (including videos and publications), is similar to Al-Qaeda’s post-9/11 franchising strategy. IS has been urging its affiliates in different parts of the world to continue the so-called ‘caliphate’ project by granting them more autonomy and freedom to mount operations. Against this backdrop, Southeast Asia has to contend with the threat of IS and other terrorist groups engaging in recruitment and proselytisation, and planning attacks through the online domain.
This context necessitates close monitoring of hotspots in Southeast Asia, including Marawi in the Philippines, Rakhine in Myanmar and the southern provinces in Thailand. In the Philippines, security forces have successfully managed to contain, isolate and eliminate the IS threat in Marawi. Although the battle is almost over with the deaths of IS Philippines leaders Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute, the threat of terrorism in the region is far from over. Rohan Gunaratna discusses the situation in Marawi, the activities of the militants, the government’s response and future trends. Despite the elimination of top leaders and fighters in Marawi, IS will prevail in Southern Philippines and pose a security threat to Southeast Asian countries as the leadership outside Mindanao remains intact. In addition, other militant groups are joining IS’ East Asia Division, indicating efforts to expand from the Philippines to Northeast and Southeast Asia.
While IS has failed to hold territory, it has been successful in cyberspace, with regular online publications of battle news, ‘religious’ articles, showing exploits of IS fighters and propaganda videos. In this connection, Jasminder Singh and Muhammad Haziq Bin Jani discuss the unprecedented appearance of a Singaporean national in an IS-propaganda video last month and its possible implications. In the midst of IS decline in the Levant, the video attempts to rally the ‘jihadists’, boost their morale, and gives the false impression that IS will prevail. The video underlines the need for continued high-level vigilance against extremist teachings and ‘jihadist’ propaganda and radicalisation in the real world and the murky cyber world.
Muh Taufiqurrohman et al. examine the issue of jihadist radicalisation and activities in Indonesia’s prisons at Nusa Kambangan. They observe that lax security measures, understaffed prison facilities, low budgetary provisions and overworked prison guards have enabled high-profile jihadists such as Aman Abdurrahman, Iwan Darmawan, Abdullah Sonata and Abu Hanifah to recruit, preach, communicate, plan and execute attacks without hindrance. They recommend placing terrorist inmates in special prisons or solitary confinement, employing full-time religious counsellors, recruiting more qualified prison guards and increasing the prisons’ operational budget.
On the issue of radicalisation, a better conceptual understanding of the subject is required. Paul Hedges explores and clarifies key issues associated with the term radicalisation. He argues that radicalisation is largely linked to socialisation and that there is no commonly accepted personality profile nor a linear pathway to radicalisation; basically, the landscape and trajectory of terrorism in terms of recruitment and evolution are both changing and fluid. In order to counter the booming youth ‘jihadist’ cultural milieu, he argues that it is necessary to have credible moderate role models and voices messages that are packaged to appeal to the youth. He added that any response to address the issue of trajectories into violence needs to be measured, targeted, evidence-based, and empathetic to the communities involved.
Commentaries / Conflict and Stability / Southeast Asia and ASEAN / Terrorism Studies
Last updated on 23/10/2017