the five-month Marawi siege in the Philippines since May 2017 in which leading
Southeast Asian jihadists such as Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute, from the
Philippines, and Dr Mahmood Ahmad and Amin Baco, from Malaysia, were killed,
many analysts believed the terrorist threat in the region has been largely
Yet in the
last two years, security forces in Southeast Asia continue to foil potential
attacks and arrest networks of mainly IS-linked operatives. In this period,
around 519 individuals in Malaysia and another 500 in Indonesia have been
remanded, while authorities in Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines have
also dismantled networks of suspected IS cells and supporters.
Decapitation & Rejuvenation
reports of senior Malaysian militants Akel Zainal and Rafi Udin being killed in
counter-terrorist operations in Syria have meant there are currently no known
Southeast Asian fighters holding leadership positions within IS in Syria and
significant as a living Southeast Asian fighter stands a greater chance of
being accepted as ‘the’ leader of IS’ affiliate networks in the region, having
earned the status of having fought and survived the ‘jihad’ in the Middle East.
thus interest on who will emerge to lead the various IS networks affected by
leadership losses in Southeast Asia. In Indonesia, veteran ideologues such as
Aman Abdurrahman and Abu Bakar Baasyir remain alive, albeit in remand, and
continue to have some influence on their specific radical circles in Indonesia
the Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), the largest terrorist group in the country,
currently operates as a loose network of autonomous pro-IS cells, following
significant losses to its central and provincial leadership in recent years.
Philippines, there are known persons (such as Hatib Sawadjaan and Furuji
Indama, who helm IS’ branches in Sulu and Basilan provinces respectively) who
have emerged to lead IS-linked groups there. In contrast, Malaysian IS networks
have been disrupted by the recent loss of key figures such as Akel and Rafi.
forward, with IS’ affiliates worldwide retaking their pledges of allegiance to
the newly declared IS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, including
networks in Southeast Asia, it is likely new individuals will emerge into
leadership roles, possibly from the pool of regional militants returning from
the Middle East or among the kin of dead IS terrorists.
to estimates, nearly 1000 Indonesians, 100 Malaysians and some nationals from
the Philippines and Singapore had journeyed (hijrah) to IS-controlled territory
in Syria during the height of its caliphate operations between 2015 and 2017.
Since then, some 85 Indonesians and 40 Malaysians have been reportedly killed
in battle, many of them male suicide bombers.
these ideologically hardened and combat ready fighters could seek to return
home, following IS’ territorial losses in Syria; many are currently either held
in prison and detention camps, or still fighting for IS’ remaining networks
developed ideological affinity, shared experiences in battle and close personal
ties with fighters from within and outside Southeast Asia, they could seek to
form alliances to coordinate terror operations around the region once back
clear precedent for such a scenario. During the 1980s, many Southeast Asian
jihadists migrated to Afghanistan to join the so-called jihad against Soviet
subsequently returned formed the nucleus of the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), which
was responsible for high-profile terrorist attacks in the 1990s and early
2000s. For IS, whose regional affiliates are already among the most organised
in Asia, the prospective return of battle-hardened fighters from the Syrian
theatre, could fortify these networks further.
& Outlook for Regional Security
tackling potential women and child returnees is also vital. As was evident in
the Surabaya bombings in May 2018, women and children have taken on
increasingly prominent roles in jihadi operations regionally.
best practices from programmes used in other countries on this issue could
buttress the ‘tool kit’ of regional counter-terrorism practitioners, although
they would need to be adapted to the Asian context.
infiltration of non-Southeast Asian militants into the region to participate in
terror attacks, some of whom may have previously forged links with Southeast
Asian IS fighters in Syria and Iraq, also requires monitoring. This was evident
during the 2017 Marawi siege, when a number of foreign jihadists were killed in
clashes with security forces, including some Uighurs in Indonesia.
of leading Southeast Asian jihadists such as Hapilon and Akel raises important
questions about the future course of the regional threat landscape, an issue
brought more sharply into focus since the death of al-Baghdadi.
are expected to closely monitor who fills the leadership vacuum within jihadist
networks in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines following the death of key
leaders in these countries.
new IS Emir in Southeast Asia has not been clearly designated following the
death of Hapilon in October 2017, local and regional leaders will likely emerge
from the group of battle-hardened fighters who migrated to the Middle East
theatre and have since returned.
leaders could also emerge from the expansive networks of local IS affiliates,
supporters and sympathisers dotted around the region.
re-emergence of JI is also most likely to be closely monitored. Since JI’s last
attack in the region in 2009, it has regrouped, and consolidated its position,
especially in Indonesia.
JI could consolidate
its position further, especially since many of its key leaders remain alive.
These include Yazid Sufaat, a prominent biochemist and bomb-maker, who was
recently released by Malaysian authorities after almost two decades in custody.
reinvigoration also provides a potential well-trodden path for IS’ own
resurgence in the region. Possible tactical alliances, involving JI and pro-IS
cells to launch joint attacks, also cannot be discounted.
Singh is a Senior Analyst with the International Centre for Political Violence
and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR), a constituent unit of the S. Rajaratnam School
of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU),
Headline: Islamic State Resilience In Southeast Asia?
Source: The Eurasia Review