ISIS Eyes Southeast Asia For Recruits
By Francesca Regalado
The leader of a Shia mosque in Bangladesh was killed on November 27 when five gunmen fired on worshippers gathered for evening prayers. Three others were wounded, the Huffington Post reports, while police currently hold two suspects. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack through a local affiliate, who stated on Twitter that “the soldiers of the caliphate targeted a place of worship for the apostates.”
According to CNN, ISIS also claimed responsibility for the September murder of Italian national Cesare Tavella in the capital city of Dhaka. Atheist bloggers have been attacked in the past year, including four who were hacked to death by machetes, according to Think Progress.
The Bangladeshi government denies the Sunni extremist group’s presence in the country, pinning the October bombing of a Shia rally in Dhaka on Jama’at ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB). The Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC) describes JMB as a terrorist group with the aim of replacing the democratic state of Bangladesh with an Islamic State governed by Sharia law.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina accused the opposition and its Islamist wing of organizing such attacks in the interest of political gain, according to the Huffington Post. Speaking to Think Progress, Asif Mohiuddin, one of the bloggers attacked by extremists then later arrested by the government, accused the latter of supporting the former.
The South Asian country is not the only one in the region at risk of becoming a breeding ground for ISIS recruits. According to the Washington Times, the United States Army points to Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim population, as an ISIS-prescribed “routine stop” for jihadists on the way to Raqqa, the Islamic State’s proclaimed capital in Syria. The Foreign Military Studies Office reports, “At least 300-500 Indonesians have been in Syria training for battle.”
Indonesia’s counterterrorism agency stated that Malaysia is also home to thousands of extremist recruits looking to join the Islamic State’s 30,000 fighters, as estimated by the House Homeland Security Committee.
In Southeast Asia, the U.S. maintains a strong military presence to combat terrorist groups in the south of the Philippines, where 6,000 troops are stationed—twice as large as the deployment in Iraq, reports the Manila Times. The militant Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), responsible for the kidnapping and murders of several Filipino and foreign nationals, pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2014 via a YouTube video featuring second-in-command Isnilon Hapilon.
Prior to Hapilon’s proclamation, a video was posted on social media showing Abu Sayyaf members in a Filipino prison pledging “bay’ah” to a black Islamic State flag, Rappler reports.
According to the International Business Times, Lieutenant General Rustico Guerrero of the Philippine Western Mindanao Command believes that ASG is taking advantage of the international attention ISIS has received to raise its ransom demands.
However, Guerrero doubts that Abu Sayyaf will eschew its local goals to expand internationally like ISIS. According to TRAC, the Abu Sayyaf Group was formed in the 1990s “as a radical offshoot of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF),” a separatist group aiming to establish an Islamic state independent of Manila.
The Philippines is also home to a wing of former Al-Qaeda affiliate Jemaah Islamiyah, based in Indonesia.
Indonesian counterintelligence head Ansyaad Mbai told Rappler, “The names don’t matter, and they can change. When they say they want an Islamic caliphate, they are part of the same group with the same ideology.”