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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Islamic State manages to get toehold in Asia

The Islamic State terrorist organisation is trying to establish a stronghold in Asia by concentrating on certain areas with Muslim populations.

These emerging hot spots are mostly poor places with strong local Muslim populations, making it easy for IS to find sympathisers willing to take up its violent causes, according to a Forbes report.

Forbes noted that political risk consultancy Eurasia Group had said in its report last year that the IS had “reared its ugly head in Asia in 2016 in a way that indicates it will be a persistent threat to regional security and stability in 2016 and going forward”.

The Eurasia Group added that through the creative use of the internet and social media, IS had mobilised populations to conduct violence in Asia, with a number of attacks in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Bangladesh.

The report noted that IS elements carried out an atack in Malaysia last year. A grenade attack, that injured eight people, was carried out against the Movida nightspot in Puchong on June 28 last year.

In May, the report said, Malaysian police found an IS terrorist cell suspected of smuggling arms from Thailand to Malaysia, “proving that the group has at least a toehold”.

It noted that the Muslim-backed anti-government insurgency in southern Thailand made the region a prime spot for IS to find recruits.

The report said the IS was finding recruits in the Philippines, where largely impoverished Muslims make up a religious majority in some pockets of the majority Catholic country.

It said IS had named Isnilon Hapilon, a leader in the 26-year-old Abu Sayyaf kidnapping group based in the Philippine Sulu Sea islets, its “emir” for Southeast Asia.

Forbes quoted Rohan Gunaratna, security studies professor at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technology University as saying that the Philippines was becoming the “most significant” spot for IS and that its role in Marawi – where government forces are fighting militants linked to IS – looms as a “threat to Asia” .

Al Jazeera reported today that the death toll in the protracted battle between the militants and government troops in the southern Philippine city of Marawi has topped 500.

It quoted Brigadier General Restituto Padilla as saying yesterday that 90 of the dead were soldiers and police officers and that at least 381 were militants. The fight began on May 23 when government forces attempted to arrest a local leader of the IS-allied group, he added.

IS has sleeper cells in rural parts of Indonesia, according to the Forbes report. But Indonesian police have been successful, so far, in containing groups sympathetic to the IS.

The IS, which has carried out attacks in Bangladesh, sees Rakhine state in Myanmar “as prime Asia turf” because it’s already a conflict zone where ethnic Rohingya Muslims face persecution from the Myanmar government.

The report quotes Gunaratna as saying some recruits from Myanmar come from Bangladesh and that they are taken to the Philippines for IS campaigns there. - FMT

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