Friday 26 September 2014

Young Muslims speak out against ISIS on social media

Online campaign catches on despite retorts by group's alleged supporters
By Zakir Hussain Indonesia Bureau Chief In Jakarta, The Straits Times, 25 Sep 2014

AS THE air strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) targets continue, a parallel battle of sorts has been taking place in the ether.

Over the last two weeks, young Muslims from various countries have been posting messages on Twitter and other social media platforms denouncing ISIS' actions as un-Islamic, with the hashtag #notinmyname.

"ISIS does not represent Islam, we condemn it," Malaysian Aizat Amdan (@MuhdAizatAmdan) said in a tweet on Sept 18.

This effort, started by the British group Active Change Foundation, has also attracted derogatory tweets from apparent ISIS supporters. Posted in various languages and apparently originating from a range of nations from India to Indonesia, these counter- tweets deride the "gullible sellouts" and the "coconut Muslims" deemed to be brown on the outside but white on the inside.

Mr Hanif Qadir (@HanifQadir), who heads the foundation which was created to counter violent extremism and terrorism, appeared unperturbed.

"The extremists need to see a united front against them which will push them away from the main body of Muslims," he said on Twitter.

His tweet drew a retort from another Britain-based user, Mr Mizanur Rahman (@Abu_Baraa1) who said: "Where are the #notinmyname videos against the air strikes killing Muslims?"

The online campaign has nevertheless caught on.

Karachi-based Ms Patakha Guddi (@filmyjoyo) posted: "We just want the world to know that #ISIS is not what Islam is. Islam preaches tolerance and compassion for humanity."

Comments like hers come amid concerns that anti-Muslim sentiment is on the rise globally as non-Muslims - including those on social media - associate ISIS' brutality with Muslims.

Jordan's King Abdullah echoed such concerns in an interview with US television network CBS earlier this week. Asked whether ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was an Islamic heretic, he replied: "I think to use the word 'Islam' and him in the same sentence is not acceptable. That he even speaks in the name of Islam for me is so horrendous and so shocking."

Jordan, alongside Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, joined the United States in air strikes on ISIS targets in Syria on Tuesday.

The strikes have, however, drawn a mixed response among ordinary people in Muslim- majority countries like Indonesia, prompting their leaders to take a wait-and-see approach to joining the coalition for now.

Addressing cadets at US military academy West Point on Monday, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said solutions that rely on military measures alone usually do not resolve the situation.

"To deal with this difficult and complex situation, we will also need to apply soft power or smart power in different doses and forms," he said.

Last month, he called on netizens to take the battle against radicals to social media.

Dr Ali Munhanif, executive director of the Centre for the Study of Islam and Society at Jakarta's Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University, told The Straits Times that ISIS has been adept at rallying support by playing up the perception of Western domination of Muslim countries.

"We have to prevent ISIS mushrooming, but the strikes are not productive either," he said.

At the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, fellows Muhammad Haniff Hassan and Mustazah Bahari, who are both Singaporean Islamic scholars, have compiled and posted online a list of Muslim voices from all over the world against the Islamic State.

The list, which is still being updated, has 86 prominent scholars, groups and countries speaking out against ISIS, and just five who explicitly support it. "It is hoped this list would contribute to... those who are looking for information of Muslims' rejection and condemnation of IS," they wrote, referring to the group.

ISIS fighters from Malaysia, Indonesia form military unit
Group united by language could expand reach in S-E Asia: Analysts
By Zakir Hussain Indonesia Bureau Chief In Jakarta And Shannon Teoh Malaysia Correspondent In Kuala Lumpur, The Straits Times, 26 Sep 2014

MILITANTS from Indonesia and Malaysia fighting in Syria have formed a military unit for Malay- speaking ISIS fighters, and analysts fear this could expand their reach in South-east Asia.

The unit is called Katibah Nusantara Lid Daulah Islamiyyah, or Malay archipelago unit for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

The Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (Ipac) estimates in a report that the new unit has at least 22 members. They came together in the town of Al-Shadadi, in Syria's Hasaka province, early last month.

Indonesian fighters Bahrum Syah - who appeared in a recent ISIS recruitment video - and Rosikien Nur posted a photo of one meeting on Facebook. The page has since been closed, Ipac said.

Observers say the men appear to have been brought together by language reasons and social media, as many Indonesians found it hard to get along in multinational ISIS units with their limited Arabic and English.

"This group was formed with a goal to recruit and facilitate people who want to go to Syria to defend the Islamic caliphate, and also do counter-attacks against governments that repress caliphate supporters," analyst Robi Sugara of the Barometer Institute told The Straits Times.

Officials say there are more than 50 Indonesian nationals and at least as many Malaysians fighting in Syria.

Reports of the unit came as Malaysia's Foreign Minister Anifah Aman announced to the UN Security Council in New York on Wednesday that his country had designated ISIS as a terrorist group, and vowed tougher action.

Mr Ansyaad Mbai, head of Indonesia's National Counter-Terrorism Agency, said yesterday that he could not comment on the new unit yet.

"But our main concern remains what those who fight there will do when they return," he told The Straits Times.

Asked if they were a threat similar to that posed by Jemaah Islamiah (JI) members from Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore who returned after training in Afghanistan in the 1990s, he said: "At the core, they share similar beliefs and goals."

Ipac's Ms Sidney Jones said that unlike the JI's South-east Asian Al-Ghuraba cell in the 1990s, which was based in Karachi, Pakistan, and made occasional trips to Afghanistan to train, the ISIS fighters have direct battle experience. "The cross-regional bonds established could also be the strongest we've seen in a long time," Ms Jones added.

Ipac said it was clear from Facebook pages that ISIS supporters in Indonesia and Malaysia were befriending one another. It added that members of the Katibah "could become the vanguard for a fighting force that would reach into Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines".

So far, there are no indications of Filipino fighters in the unit yet.

Malaysia's Home Ministry said on Wednesday that it had ordered financial institutions to screen their clients against the UN's terror database and to freeze funds and assets where there is suspicious activity.

The US Treasury has imposed sanctions on JI's humanitarian wing, Hasi, and three Indonesians linked to it - Angga Dimas Pershada, Bambang Sukirno and Wiji Joko Santoso - for raising funds and helping to send extremists to fight in Syria.

The Mindanao-based Abu Sayyaf group and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters have pledged allegiance to ISIS.

Abu Sayyaf this week threatened to execute two German hostages it kidnapped in April, if Germany did not cease its support for US-led strikes on ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq.

Additional reporting by Raul Dancel in Manila

Reaction from Singapore:

“Our security agencies are monitoring the situation in Syria closely. We will continue to be vigilant in guarding Singapore against the rising terrorist threat that ISIS poses and will take the necessary measures to prevent Singaporeans from being drawn into the violence there. Singaporeans are advised to be vigilant and to play a part by preventing family and friends from becoming radicalised and drawn into the violence. Promoting any group that carries out or threatens to carry out terrorist acts in Singapore or elsewhere, can pose a serious security threat to Singapore, and is not allowed under our laws.”

- Ministry of Home Affairs

Singapore group moves to counter militant ideology
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 26 Sep 2014

A GROUP of Islamic scholars and teachers set up to curb the Jemaah Islamiah (JI) threat in Singapore has been counselling people who actively read online material related to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria's (ISIS) ideology and were referred to them by the authorities.

It is now also looking to counter ISIS' radical ideology, including through a more active presence online, videos, talks at schools and distributing pamphlets at mosques.

Dr Mohamed Ali, vice-chairman of the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG), would not disclose the exact number counselled or how they were identified.

But he said that "support (for ISIS) is there... (It's) a very small group, but growing".

ISIS' ideology has gained traction closer to home in recent months but Singapore has been lucky so far, Dr Mohamed said.

"We are fortunate that these individuals are identified by the authorities early, before they become deeply convinced of the radical narratives," he said in an interview this week.

"So they are receptive to explanations by RRG counsellors and can easily wean themselves off radical ideas they encounter."

ISIS, which has captured large swathes of territory and committed atrocities such as beheadings, has attracted about 15,000 fighters from all corners of the globe.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last week cited the influence the group might have outside the Middle East as a top concern.

A "handful of Singaporeans" joined the civil war in Syria, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean told Parliament in July. The Internet, he added, has been a game-changer.

Dr Mohamed, an assistant professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, agreed.

When the RRG was set up in 2003 to counsel JI detainees, the Internet was not the main platform to spread radical ideology, he said.

JI members were indoctrinated by leaders who held classes in their homes to spread teachings.

Today, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are tools of the trade for extremist groups.

Self-radicalised individuals, Dr Mohamed said, are harder to pin down. "The Internet means we don't know who is a supporter unless they make plans to be involved in overseas conflict and the authorities catch them.

"We believe there are people quietly being influenced. But what's the true level of influence? It's hard to know."

But the RRG is taking steps to counter this new threat, he said. One way is through the Internet.

The group did not have an online presence when it started. It set up its website only in 2007, uploading material to dispel terrorist ideology. In 2011, it launched its Facebook account.

"Now, with ISIS, we know we need to do more," said Dr Mohamed.

RRG plans to produce and upload videos on why ISIS ideology goes against Islamic teachings.

It has published pamphlets on the Syrian conflict which have also been uploaded online and passed out at mosques. A pamphlet on ISIS is being considered.

RRG is also looking to hold talks for students from mainstream schools and madrasahs.

And it plans to reach out to non-Muslims. "We have to defend and clear the name of Islam. What ISIS preaches is not based on Islamic teachings, although they claim to act in the name of Islam," said Dr Mohamed.

Institute of Policy Studies senior research fellow Mathew Mathews agrees that inter-community efforts are important.

"It is important the Muslim community and the authorities help the wider Singaporean population to appreciate that Singaporean Muslims do not subscribe to extreme ideologies," he said.

The RRG's plans are expected to be launched in the coming months.

Obama: Expose extremists' ideologies
By Jeremy Au Yong, US Bureau Chief In Washington, The Straits Times, 25 Sep 2014

THE Muslim world can do more to counter the spread of extremist ideologies by cutting off funding to terrorist groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and shrinking their presence online, US President Barack Obama said yesterday.

He made a plea to Muslim countries, in particular, to take on what he said was the source of terrorism. While addressing the need for global action on various challenges, he also called for more attention to be paid to the young.

"It is time for the world - especially Muslim communities - to explicitly, forcefully and consistently reject the ideology of Al-Qaeda and ISIL," Mr Obama said during his address at the opening session of the UN General Assembly in New York, using an alternative name for ISIS.

"It is time for a new compact among the civilised peoples of this world to eradicate war at its most fundamental source: the corruption of young minds by violent ideology."

He urged Muslim nations to cut off funding for groups that promote extremism and also to contest the space that these terrorists occupy online.

One trademark of ISIS - which has attracted some 15,000 foreign fighters - has been its effective use of social media platforms such as Twitter and YouTube.

"Their propaganda has coerced young people to travel abroad to fight their wars... We must offer an alternative vision," said Mr Obama.

He held up as good examples the activities of various young Muslims, such as the British group which started the #notinmyname campaign on Twitter to denounce ISIS ideology.

"The ideology of ISIL or Al-Qaeda or Boko Haram will wilt and die if it is consistently exposed, confronted and refuted in the light of day," he said. Boko Haram is a militant Nigerian group that kidnapped over 100 girls this year as part of its opposition to education for women.

Mr Obama also stressed that countries should focus on developing the potential of their youth, this time highlighting Malaysia and Indonesia as good examples.

He said: "We see it in Malaysia, where vibrant entrepreneurship is propelling a former colony into the ranks of advanced economies. And we see it in Indonesia, where what began as a violent transition has evolved into a genuine democracy."

Religious leaders in Australia appeal for calm
By Jonathan Pearlman For The Straits Times In Sydney, The Straits Times, 25 Sep 2014

ISLAMIC and Christian leaders in Australia have called for "community harmony" following a spate of anti-Muslim and anti-Christian incidents, including attacks on mosques, threats to Christian schools and a pig's head impaled on a cross.

A Facebook page called Islamophobia Register Australia, set up on Sept 16, has recorded threats against at least four mosques and incidents of cars spray-painted with threats. 

"A number of women, particularly in hijab, and children have been verbally abused and threatened," said Ms Mariam Veiszadeh, a spokesman for the page.

Meanwhile, some Christian schools and churches have reported threats from young men bearing Islamic flags and threatening them with "slaughter".

The tensions follow the nation's largest counter-terrorism operation last week, which exposed an alleged plot to conduct filmed beheadings in Sydney.

Terror suspect Abdul Numan Haider was shot in Melbourne on Tuesday while allegedly planning to behead police officers and drape them in an Islamic flag. The 18-year-old stabbed two policemen before he was shot dead.

Security agencies have warned of the threat from some 60 Australians who have travelled to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other militant groups. 

The government said the threat from ISIS, which called this week for Muslims to indiscriminately kill Australians, was "genuine".

The growing tensions prompted Christian and Muslim leaders to call for restraint yesterday. The nation's most senior Islamic leader, the Grand Mufti of Australia, Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohamed, said the ISIS call to target Australia "has no religious authority".

Leaders from the Sunni and Shi'ite Muslim, Catholic and Anglican communities met in Sydney and called for calm.

The government yesterday also introduced anti-terrorism measures to expand the powers of security agencies, along with a controversial law to ban people from travelling to "no-go zones".

This could see Australians jailed for 10 years if they cannot point to a legitimate reason for their trips to certain countries.

S'pore welcomes UN anti-terror resolution 'and will play its part'
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 27 Sep 2014

SINGAPORE has welcomed an anti-terrorism resolution that was unanimously approved by the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday in New York.

It is also prepared to play its part in curbing the terrorist threat that has spilled beyond the Middle East, attracting 15,000 foreign fighters from 80 countries.

Singapore is one of the co-sponsors of the resolution, which aims to stop the flow of foreign extremists to Iraq and Syria, both of which have lost large swathes of their land to militants.

"We believe that foreign terrorist fighters are a clear threat to international peace and security," the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said yesterday in response to media queries.

The resolution is the most significant action the Security Council has taken against terrorism since the Sept 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

It requires all nations to adopt laws that criminalise their nationals who join extremist groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front. Also, recruiting for or funding such groups will be taken as serious crimes. These measures could be enforced by economic sanctions or military force.

Singapore, the MFA added, firmly supports all international and regional cooperation to combat terrorism. "We stand ready to play our part to counter the threat of global terrorism," it said in a statement.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has come out to warn Singaporeans that promoting groups like ISIS is illegal.

"Promoting any group that carries out or threatens to carry out terrorist acts in Singapore or elsewhere can pose a serious security threat to Singapore, and is not allowed under our laws," an MHA spokesman told The Straits Times yesterday.

He said Singapore's security agencies are monitoring the situation in Syria seriously, and will "take the necessary measures" to prevent Singaporeans from being drawn into the violence there.

Urging the public to remain vigilant, he advised them to alert the authorities to any suspicious activity, and play their part in preventing family and friends from becoming radicalised.

Dr Mohamed Ali, vice-chairman of the Religious Rehabilitation Group that counters radical teachings of Islam, told The Straits Times this week the group has been counselling people who actively read up on ISIS' ideology online. These people were referred to the group by the authorities.

In July, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean told Parliament that a "handful of Singaporeans" had joined the war in Syria.

Militants from Indonesia and Malaysia fighting in Syria have formed a unit for Malay-speaking ISIS fighters which is estimated to have at least 22 members.

In yesterday's statement, the MFA noted that the violent campaigns waged by terrorist groups against innocent civilians are not confined to Iraq and Syria alone.

The "horrific murder" of French national Herve Gourdel is a case in point, it said. The tourist was decapitated by an Algerian extremist group this week.

ISIS has previously beheaded three captives: two American journalists and a British aid worker.

Why is Asia so quiet on the ISIS front?
By Jeremy Au Yong Us Bureau Chief In Washington And Rachel Chang In Beijing, The Straits Times, 27 Sep 2014

ASIA'S role in the battle against ISIS is increasingly coming into question as governments in the region continue to sit on the sidelines of the fight.

Not a single South-east Asian country is part of the United States-led coalition against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militant group, and Asean has thus far been silent on it. China is also staying out of the fray despite concerted courting by Washington, with experts saying Beijing will not join the coalition because it sees greater advantage in being a passive bystander.

South-east Asian leaders who have spoken so far at the ongoing United Nations summit in New York - a meeting that has been dominated by the ISIS threat - have also largely steered clear of addressing the issue.

All this stands in stark contrast to how involved militants in the region have been in the ISIS saga so far. The Abu Sayyaf rebel group in the Philippines has threatened to kill two German hostages if Germany does not withdraw support for the US campaign, and the Pentagon estimates that some 1,000 ISIS foreign fighters come from the Asia Pacific.

Observers cite a variety of reasons for the Asian reticence - from pressing domestic issues to a reluctance among leaders of some Muslim states to take actions that might spark retaliation from domestic radical groups.

"The Asian states are preoccupied with so many thorny problems of their own, and they may be worried about retaliation by radical groups. The situation at home in several states is sensitive because of the Muslim populations," said Professor Jerome Cohen from the Council on Foreign Relations.

Outgoing Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is cited as among those determined to stay on the sidelines. As the leader of the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation and one with aspirations for regional leadership, he had raised hopes that his UN speech might articulate his country's stand on ISIS. Instead, experts felt, he gave a largely uninspiring speech focused on big power relations and Asean unity.

"He continues to be insecure about how he is portrayed by the small but vocal extremist community back home, some - though not all - who are sympathetic to ISIS," said Dr Joseph Liow, the Lee Kuan Yew chair in South-east Asia Studies at New York-based think-tank Brookings Institution.

He adds that many South-east Asian states might also be taking a wait-and-see approach to the US possibly being drawn back into another eventual quagmire. "After what happened with Iraq, I suppose their caution is understandable," he said.

As for China, while its interests as a major importer of Iraqi oil and a declared target of the radical group are closely aligned with Washington's, China will not join the coalition as it suits its purpose better to stay out of the fray, say experts.

"China does not want to alienate the radical anti-Western groups in the region, and it also is not unhappy to see the US failing to get a clean retreat from the region," said Professor Joseph Cheng from the City University of Hong Kong.

"If the US can withdraw completely from the Middle East as it wanted to, it can deploy more of its resources to the Asia Pacific to rebalance the rise of China."

Still, China has taken a supportive tone towards the US' anti-ISIS efforts - Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the UN Security Council on Wednesday voted in favour of a US-sponsored resolution to bind countries to stop their citizens from going abroad to join terrorist groups.

Asean issues first joint statement on ISIS crisis
It does not explicitly name group but denounces 'all acts of terror in all its forms'
By Jeremy Au Yong, US Bureau Chief In Washington, The Sunday Times, 28 Sep 2014

Asean foreign ministers have raised concerns over the situation in Syria and Iraq, issuing their first joint statement on the brewing crisis over militant group ISIS.

The 10-nation bloc released a joint statement on the issue yesterday, after an Asean-US ministerial meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

Individual nations, Singapore included, had previously condemned the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), but Asean had said nothing on the issue collectively until yesterday. No Asean member is as yet a member of the United States-led coalition engaged in the Middle East conflict.

While the statement did not explicitly name ISIS, it said that Asean denounces "all acts of destruction, violence, and terror in all its forms".

It added that Asean countries "expressed concern over the rise of violence and brutality committed by terrorist/extremist organisations and radical groups in Iraq and Syria, noting that these groups not only pose a threat to the people of Iraq and Syria, but also to all countries in the Middle East, and if left unchecked, to the rest of the world".

Asean supported calls for the international community to work together to fight terrorism and extremism, while it also backed the UN Security Council resolutions passed last week that aim to compel countries to take measures to stem the flow of foreign fighters to militant groups.

The ISIS crisis has seen an increasing impact on the region in recent weeks.

On Thursday, the Malaysian authorities arrested three men it suspected were headed to Syria to fight alongside the militant group. The Pentagon estimated that around 1,000 ISIS fighters had come from across India and the Asia Pacific.

The Abu Sayyaf rebel group in the Philippines - which has pledged allegiance to ISIS - has threatened to kill two German hostages in retaliation for the ongoing US-led air strikes in Iraq and Syria.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, who attended the Asean-US meeting, yesterday thanked the Asean ministers for "taking a strong stand against ISIL and for supporting the global effort to stop the spread of foreign terrorist fighters". ISIS is sometimes referred to as ISIL.

He similarly welcomed the grouping's support for the international efforts to battle the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, but called on Asean to show "commitment and leadership in supporting the global drive to combat climate change".

On continuing tensions in the South China Sea, Mr Kerry stressed the importance of clarifying an agreement on self-restraint as the bloc continues to try and push for a Code of Conduct on territorial disputes.

A statement from the Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in turn, said that all parties at the meeting were satisfied with the state of Asean-US cooperation and looked forward to the next Asean-US summit in Myanmar in November.

US President Barack Obama is expected to attend meetings in Myanmar after heading to Beijing for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit.

Yesterday, Asean foreign ministers also held their first meeting with ministers of the Pacific Alliance, a trade bloc of four Latin American countries. The leaders discussed ways to enhance cooperation between the two groups.

Post by CNN.

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