Thursday 21 January 2016

Jakarta attacks could mark start of ISIS campaign in South-East Asia

More must be done to counter terror group's spreading influence, experts warn
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 20 Jan 2016

Last week's deadly attacks in Jakarta could mark the start of a violent campaign by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in South-East Asia unless more is done to counter the group, experts have warned.

ISIS has claimed responsibility for the gun and bomb attacks that ripped through a busy commercial district of the Indonesian capital, leaving four civilians dead and more than 20 injured.

SPF, with the support from other Home Team agencies, conducted an island-wide exercise at various locations from 18 to...
Posted by Singapore Police Force on Tuesday, January 19, 2016

It could have been a lot bloodier, said Dr Rohan Gunaratna, head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research in Singapore, if Indonesian security forces had not arrested more than a dozen militants over the past two months, dismantling two terror cells in the process.

Still, ISIS' tentacles are spreading.

As the world's most populous Muslim-majority country, Indonesia seems the likeliest place for ISIS to try to establish a satellite province of its so-called caliphate, a foothold from which to expand its influence from its heart in the Middle East.

Already, Indonesia's most-wanted terrorist, Santoso, has pledged his East Indonesia Mujahidin group , which operates in Central Sulawesi, to ISIS' cause. The terror group has also established links with militants in East Java, Lampung in Sumatra, South Sulawesi and West Sulawesi.

"There are 22 groups in Indonesia that have pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi," said Dr Gunaratna, referring to ISIS' self-styled caliph.

"As long as those groups exist, there will be extremism not just in Indonesia, but also in the region."

ISIS' influence in the Philippines is also growing, with some experts going so far as to say that the authorities have no time to waste.

After a year-long discussion between local terror groups that had pledged allegiance to ISIS, Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon was chosen to head ISIS in the Philippines, according to Dr Gunaratna.

He believes the Philippine military should deploy itself in the country's south now to nip the situation in the bud before it escalates. He said: "Our assessment is that ISIS will declare a satellite state in South-East Asia, and it could be a combination of elements in the Philippines and Indonesia, or it could be first in the Philippines, then in Indonesia."

Closer to Singapore, Malaysia is also grappling with the spread of ISIS ideology, said Associate Professor Kumar Ramakrishna, head of policy studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

This has even taken root within its military. Last October, two 28-year-olds were arrested at a special forces camp in Malacca for trying to spread ISIS ideology among soldiers. They are among at least 13 military personnel who have been arrested for suspected links to ISIS, according to Malaysian police.

"On top of that, ISIS has an Indonesian and Malaysian unit of fighters - the Katibah Nusantara - in Syria, and these people will come back one day, perhaps sooner rather than later," said Dr Ramakrishna.

The Katibah Nusantara is said to comprise about 700 fighters from Indonesia and 200 from Malaysia.

ISIS' ability to mount more devastating and coordinated urban terror attacks in this region will be strengthened as more of such trained, hardened fighters return to their home countries.

Despite its distance from the Middle East, South-East Asia is a coveted prize for ISIS, and its efforts here show that.

It is not hard to see why - the region is home to a quarter of the world's 1.6 billion Muslims, noted Dr Ramakrishna. "South-East Asia is a natural 'strategic reserve' for ISIS in that sense. Also, the region straddles important sea lanes of communication that are vital to world trade," he said.

Establishing a foothold in the region would allow ISIS to "mobilise, radicalise and militarise a segment of the Muslim community", said Dr Gunaratna.

He said: "The Middle East is too far, but an entity (in South-East Asia) can be a hub for groups to come to for training, strategy and funding... that's why this must be prevented."

INFOGRAPHIC: Here's a look at the security threats that surrounds Singapore.
Posted by TODAY on Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Disaffected people easy prey for ISIS recruiters
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 20 Jan 2016

One way to combat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is to attend to the disaffection in the region, said two security experts and a Muslim leader contacted by The Straits Times.

If the unhappiness festers, ISIS will exploit it for recruitment and create divisions in society, they said.

"We do know that foreign jihadists have identified the Rohingya situation in Myanmar as a source of resentment," said Dr Kumar Ramakrishna from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies

The Rohingya people are a displaced Muslim minority group persecuted for their faith and ethnicity in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.

Recently, Indian media reported on the dismantling of a human trafficking racket which had sneaked 500 Rohingya from Bangladesh into Saudi Arabia on fake passports. Some of the men were believed to have joined ISIS.

Dr Rohan Gunaratna, head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, said that already, a small number of Rohingya have trained in Indonesia and southern Thailand, and it was "only a matter of time" before ISIS created a cell among these displaced people.

It has already created a similar presence in southern Thailand, where a Muslim insurgency festers, he said.

"ISIS will move wherever there is disaffection and unhappiness, and exploit the situation," said Dr Gunaratna.

Last year, The Straits Times reported on how ISIS released videos in Malay showing the indoctrination and grooming of children of Katibah Nusantara fighters, encouraging others to join them.

The Katibah Nusantara is a unit of Indonesian and Malaysian fighters in Syria. The group's leader, Bahrun Naim, has been identified as the man behind last Thursday's attacks in Jakarta.

On its Twitter feed last August, ISIS posted a picture of a baby sleeping next to a grenade and rifle with a message in Bahasa exhorting Indonesians to join its so-called jihad, if not in Syria, then where they lived.

But the propaganda is not just a call to violence, it also threatens to drive a wedge into society, said Ustaz Ali Mohamed, co-chairman of the Religious Rehabilitation Group which is made up of Muslim scholars who counsel terror detainees and radicalised individuals in Singapore.

They have launched a helpline for religious counsellors, trained ambassadors to reach out to Muslims, and uploaded videos online to counter distorted teachings.

Ustaz Ali said: "ISIS is a misinterpretation of what is Islam. Islam never condones or practises violence. We need to engage non-Muslims also, and explain to them that these are not teachings of Islam - so people of different faiths feel safe living with Muslims."

Malaysia steps up security at entry points, malls
The Straits Times, 20 Jan 2016

PUTRAJAYA • Security at Malaysia's key entry points such as airports, train stations and ports has been tightened as a precaution against terror attacks, officials said, and there will be increased police and military presence in public and tourist areas.

After chairing a meeting of the National Security Council yesterday, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said joint patrols by policemen and soldiers would be conducted immediately in the Bukit Bintang shopping and entertainment area in Kuala Lumpur, as well as a few major shopping malls.

"We want the people to feel safe and reassured. We want the people to continue their business as normal and not to be overly concerned as the authorities have the situation under control," he told a press conference.

Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said security had been beefed up at the country's key entry points from last year, after intelligence sources revealed a threat of possible attacks in Kuala Lumpur's popular food street, Jalan Alor, in Bukit Bintang.

"Airports and train stations are public areas, and we always pay close attention to these places. We have put in more surveillance equipment and personnel. We will continue to strengthen security at these areas," he told reporters on Monday after launching a civic awareness programme.

He also urged the public not to panic.

"Although some areas in the city have been identified as possible targets, Malaysians must stay calm and have confidence in our security forces," he said.

City buses and monorails in the capital are also taking precautions.

Mr Azmi Abdul Aziz, group chief executive of Prasarana, which runs the RapidKL city buses and KL Monorail, said company officials were working closely with police to enhance public safety and ensure no disruption to travel.


Indonesia to review anti-terror laws
Proposed revisions to focus on prevention, tightening of sentences for offenders
The Straits Times, 20 Jan 2016

JAKARTA • Indonesian President Joko Widodo is considering a regulation that would prohibit Indonesians from joining radical groups overseas, in an effort to prevent a deadlier attack than last week's militant assault on Jakarta.

At a meeting yesterday at the palace, top political and security officials agreed to review anti-terrorism laws, which currently allow Indonesians to freely return home after fighting in Syria with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Security forces fear that returning fighters could launch a much more calculated attack than the amateurish assault militants launched on Thursday last week using two pistols and 11 low-yield homemade bombs.

Eight people were killed in the attack, including the four attackers.

"We've agreed to review the terrorism law to focus on prevention," parliamentary speaker Zulkifli Hasan told Reuters.

"Currently, there is nothing in the law covering training. There is also nothing currently covering people going overseas (to join radical groups) and returning. This needs to be broadened."

Proposed revisions would also tighten prison sentences for terrorism offences, he said.

Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Luhut Pandjaitan told reporters the new regulation would allow suspects to be temporarily detained.

"The point is to give police the authority to pre-emptively and temporarily detain (a suspect) while they get information to prevent future incidents," Mr Luhut said, adding the detention could last up to two weeks.

Mr Joko said discussions on the new regulation, which would be a stop-gap measure until parliament can revise its anti-terrorism law, were still at "an early stage".

"This is very pressing. Many people have left for Syria or returned," he said, but did not say when a decision would be made.

Police believe the alleged mastermind of the Jakarta attack, an Indonesian fighting with ISIS in Syria called Bahrun Naim, used social media to communicate his radical ideas to followers in Indonesia.

Jakarta Post newspaper reported yesterday that Bahrun has reactivated a defunct blog and published two posts on Monday, saying the attack was carried out by ISIS to target police - whom he accused of killing Muslims without trial - as well as foreigners.

Hundreds of Indonesians are believed by the authorities to have travelled to the Middle East to join ISIS. About 100 are believed to have returned, most of whom did not see frontline combat.

Indonesian Police Chief Badrodin Haiti told Reuters in an interview on Monday that the country was bracing itself for the return of these more experienced fighters, who may be capable of carrying out far more sophisticated operations than last week's attack, which was hampered by poor training and weapons.

"There is the possibility (of a bigger attack) if they can train people in preparing explosives," he said.

In the wake of the latest attack, police will redouble efforts to monitor radical networks in Indonesia.

Two terror networks, who Gen Badrodin identified only as Bekasi and Cirebon groups, are suspected of involvement in Thursday's attack, which was the first in Indonesia to be attributed to ISIS.

"The Bekasi and Cirebon groups have strong communication," he was quoted as saying yesterday by online news portal

But even if the new revisions are imposed, Indonesia would still have weaker anti-terrorism laws than some of its neighbours.

Malaysia last April passed a law reintroducing detention withouttrial, three years after a similar measure was revoked.

Australia has in recent years passed measures banning its citizens from returning from conflict zones in Syria and the Middle East, while making it easier to monitor domestic communications.

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