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Global ISIS threat: How Asia should counter it

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By Rohan Gunaratna

Asian governments and their partners should craft a multi-faceted response to Islamic State (ISIS), the group that claimed the Jan. 14 terrorist attack in Jakarta.

This is in their interest because they cannot afford to let IS expand its influence in the region through local cells and networks, which could disrupt Asia’s security and stability in the 21st century. Today, the regional and global priority should be to dismantle IS across the board.

The group poses a multi-dimensional threat through core operations in its home base of Syria and Iraq, its branches in other corners of the globe, and its online presence. IS foreign fighters and supporters from across the Asia-Pacific are active in all these domains.

To counter this threat the region’s military forces, law enforcement authorities and national security agencies need to develop new capabilities. These integrated measures would include expanding elite counter-terrorism tactical units, enlarging national security services, developing robust legal frameworks for preventive detention, and raising units dedicated to stopping cyber-attacks.

Because Asia-Pacific is rising in the 21st century, its various governments need to do more and work together to secure the region, as well as increase their efforts in the international fight to dismantle IS at its core.

A few regional governments have joined anti-IS coalitions. But it is paramount for more governments, especially those threatened by IS in the region, to join the coalitions.

By working with the coalitions, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, China, Japan and other Asian powers can build their own military and intelligence capabilities.

At the heart of going after the IS core in Iraq and Syria is building intelligence-led military capabilities to kill or capture IS leaders, breaking up their support and operational structures, and disrupting their operations.

Asia can play pivotal role

An air campaign alone will not achieve the desired outcome. Both special and general- purpose ground forces also are essential to degrading and destroying IS. Political will is key to fighting IS in a ground war, but without another mass fatality, mass casualty attack reminiscent of 9/11, public support for this will be unlikely.

The Muslim countries of the Asia-Pacific, nonetheless, can play a pivotal role in countering IS’s radical ideology, narratives, and propaganda.

It is worth noting too that the U.S./Arab and Russian/Shia-led coalitions which are fighting IS will not unite around the threat. However, they will exchange intelligence and develop or sharpen capabilities for containing, isolating and eliminating IS at the core and other areas.

Only a sharp escalation of the threat can unite these various coalitions.

The case of Mehdi Nemmouche

The need for anti-IS collaboration between European, Middle Eastern and Asian services was exposed when Mehdi Nemmouche, a 29-year-old Frenchman of Algerian origin, killed four people in an attack on the Jewish Museum of Belgium in May 2014.

After spending a year with IS in Syria, Nemmouche visited Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore while in transit before entering Europe through Germany to stage the attack in Belgium. He took a circuitous route back to Western Europe so as to throw European authorities off guard about his presence in the Middle East.

A convicted criminal who was radicalized and recruited in prison, before the attack Nemmouche recorded a video showing the IS flag. Had the French authorities shared their intelligence with their Asian counterparts, the attack might have been prevented.

Therefore, international and regional cooperation in the fields of security and intelligence cooperation is of paramount importance today to contain and control the threat.

Governments must be proactive

In the Asia-Pacific, it is imperative that governments take preemptive action against IS support groups that have ambitions to collaborate with IS central in declaring their areas satellites of the IS’s self-proclaimed caliphate.

The key to preventing IS from making inroads and declaring areas as its provinces is for governments to take legislative and executive action. Governments should proscribe entities and people advocating, supporting and participating in IS activities, as well as charge and prosecute them.

To stop IS from declaring an area as one of its provinces the strategy should be to target IS’s core, the satellite and the intermediary link. The tempo of IS attacks in Iraq and Syria created the momentum for spawning and sustaining associated groups outside the theatre of conflict.

Develop zero tolerance in cyberspace

Asia-Pacific governments in particular can play a role in countering the IS threat online.

Between 80 to 90 percent of IS’s online media traffic targets Arabic speakers, but the group’s supporters in the Asia-Pacific have created online messaging platforms that aim to recruit, radicalize and militarize vulnerable segments of Muslim populations region-wide.

In Malay, Indonesian, Devehi, Urdu, Pashtu and other Asian languages, IS supporters promote an IS pop ideology of hatred that seeks to replace mainstream Islam. About 80 percent of social media sites transmitting IS propaganda is hosted by U.S. and European-based servers.

Because of a lack of leadership, will, and strategy among governments and partners tasked with counter-messaging and taking down IS online platforms, the threat will persist and grow. As long as IS social media sites remain intact, the threat will proliferate.

Governments across the Asia-Pacific should develop a zero tolerance against IS propaganda in the virtual space.

The IS operational threat manifests itself in the physical space, but it is growing both in the virtual space. In parallel to a ground campaign, governments should firmly regulate the use, misuse and abuse of the internet in order to prevent IS from indoctrinating young minds through social media.

In preventing IS online messaging from radicalizing and militarizing Muslim communities, governments should build partnerships with the private sector, civil society and community groups.

To fight IS’s sophisticated exploitation of technology, governments should build trusted networks with academia and technology companies.  To protect vulnerable segments of Muslim communities, governments in the region and their partners should complement a whole-of-society approach with a whole-of-government approach.

The twin approaches are to build: (a) on-line and off-line counter-radicalization programs; and (b) de-radicalization programs to rehabilitate those already radicalized.

Failure to craft a multi-faceted response will lead to the disruption to the relations between religious and ethnic communities affecting harmony, which is essential for the region’s prosperity in the 21st century.

Published with permission from BenarNews

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Syrian Militia: End Is Near for Islamic State in Raqqa

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Smoke rises near the stadium where the Islamic State militants are holed up after an airstrike by coalition forces at the frontline, in Raqqa, Syria. voa

Islamic State is on the verge of defeat in Syria’s Raqqa and the city may finally be cleared of the jihadists Saturday or Sunday, the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia told Reuters Saturday.

The U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State said around 100 of the jihadist group’s fighters had surrendered in Raqqa in the last 24 hours and had been “removed from the city,” but it still expected difficult fighting “in the days ahead.”

It did not say how the fighters had been removed or where the fighters had been taken.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said remaining Islamic State fighters were being transported out of Raqqa by bus under a deal between Islamic State, the U.S.-led coalition and the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is dominated by the YPG. There was no immediate comment on that report from the coalition or the SDF.

Fighting since June

Civilians who escaped from Islamic State
Civilians who escaped from Islamic State militants rest at a mosque in Raqqa, Syria. voa

The SDF, backed by coalition airstrikes and special forces, has been battling since June to oust Islamic State from Raqqa city, formerly its de facto capital in Syria and a base of operations where it planned attacks against the West.

The final defeat of Islamic State at Raqqa will be a major milestone in efforts to roll back the group’s self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq, where earlier this year the group was driven from the city of Mosul.

“The battles are continuing in Raqqa city. Daesh (Islamic State) is on the verge of being finished. Today or tomorrow the city may be liberated,” YPG spokesman Nouri Mahmoud told Reuters by telephone.

In emailed comments to Reuters, coalition spokesman Ryan Dillon said about 100 Islamic State fighters had surrendered in Raqqa in the last 24 hours and were “removed from the city,” without giving further details.

“We still expect difficult fighting in the days ahead and will not set a time for when we think (Islamic State) will be completely defeated in Raqqa,” he said, adding that around 85 percent of Raqqa had been liberated as of Oct. 13.

Some civilians escape

Around 1,500 civilians had been able to safely make it to SDF lines within the last week, he added.

Omar Alloush, a member of a civilian council set up to run Raqqa, told Reuters late Friday that efforts were under way to secure the release of civilians and “a possible way to expel terrorist elements from Raqqa province,” without giving further details.

An activist group that reports on Raqqa, Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, said on its Facebook page Saturday that dozens of buses had entered Raqqa city overnight, having traveled from the northern Raqqa countryside.

The Observatory said Syrian Islamic State fighters and their families had left the city, and buses had arrived to evacuate remaining foreign fighters and their families. It did not say where they would be taken.

During the more than six-year Syrian war, the arrival of buses in a conflict zone has often signaled an evacuation of combatants and civilians.

The campaign against Islamic State in Syria is now focused on its last major foothold in the country, the eastern province of Deir el-Zour, which neighbors Iraq.
Islamic State is facing separate offensives in Deir el-Zour by the SDF on one hand, and Syrian government forces supported by Iranian-backed militia and Russian airstrikes on the other. (VOA)

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Kurdish Red Crescent: IS Attacks Kill at Least 50 in East Syria

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A female fighter from the Syrian Democratic Forces stands near a military tank in the village of Abu Fas, Hasaka province, Syria. voa

Islamic State suicide attackers killed at least 50 people in a triple car bomb attack on Thursday among a group of refugees in northeast Syria, a medical source in the Kurdish Red Crescent said.

A large number of people were also injured by the three car bombs, the source said.

The attack took place at Abu Fas, near the border of Deir el-Zour and Hasaka provinces, said a war monitor, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which said earlier that at least 18 people had been killed.

The dead included refugees fleeing the fighting in Deir el-Zour as well as members of the Kurdish Asayish security force, the observatory reported. Syrian state television said dozens had been killed in the attack.

The jihadist group has lost swaths of its territory in both Syria and Iraq this year and is falling back on the towns and villages of the Euphrates valley southeast of Deir el-Zour.

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias is pressing it from the north, and a rival offensive by the Syrian army, supported by allies including Iran and Russia, is attacking it from the west.

On Wednesday, Islamic State said it had carried out an attack in the capital, Damascus, where three suicide bombers detonated their devices near a police headquarters, killing two people and wounding six.

Aid agencies have warned that the fighting in eastern Syria is the worst in the country this year and that airstrikes have caused hundreds of civilian casualties.(VOA)

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India Demands Data on UN Staff Misconduct, Use of Immunity

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India has demanded the secretariat disclose information about misconduct by UN staff. Flickr

United Nations, Oct 7: In an attempt to break the wall of silence around the crimes and UN staff misconduct and those on its assignments, India has demanded the secretariat disclose information about such cases and the immunity invoked against prosecutions.

Yedla Umasankar, the legal advisor in India’s UN Mission, touched a raw nerve here by criticising the UN on Friday for not vigorously following up allegations of serious wrongdoing by its employees who enjoy the equivalent of diplomatic immunity, a prized possession of its staff.

“It appears that the UN system itself may be reluctant to waive immunity even for serious misconduct carried out by its personnel while serving on its missions, so that such cases can be prosecuted by the host governments,” he told the General Assembly’s committee on legal affairs.

“Even a few of such instances or allegations of crimes committed by UN personnel is highly damaging for the image and credibility of the United Nations system and its work around the world,” he added.

His statement also touched on the practice of some countries that protect their wrongdoers at the UN.

Umasankar demanded that secretariat disclose how many cases of serious misconduct by UN personnel were registered and the number of cases where the UN refused to waive immunity to allow their prosecution.

He also wanted to know in how many cases the host country wanted the immunity waived so it can prosecute those accused; the number of times the UN asked the host country or the country that sent them to prosecute them; how many times it consulted countries before waiver of the immunity of their personnel and how many of them refused UN’s request to waive their citizens’ immunity.

The information he wanted does not cover the diplomats sent by member countries to represent them at UN bodies and enjoy diplomatic immunity with the nations hosting the UN facilities.

After scores of serious allegations of sexual misconduct by peacekeepers, especially exploitation of children, the UN vowed to uphold a policy of zero tolerance and began publishing data on such cases in peacekeeping operations including how they were dealt with.

Starting with the year 2015, it began identifying the nationalities of those accused.

However, it has not made public a roster detailing all the allegations and proven cases of serious misconduct across the entire UN.

While the focus has been on sexual exploitation and abuse reported on peacekeeping operations, Umasankar said that “at a broader level, the issue of accountability has remained elusive in some cases”.

He attributed it to “the complexities of legal aspects relating to sovereignty and jurisdiction”, the immunity or privileges that may be necessary for UN operations, and the capability or willingness of countries to investigate and prosecute the accused.

He noted that the UN itself cannot make criminal prosecutions.

While Indian laws has provisions for dealing with crimes committed abroad by its citizens, not all countries have them, he said.

Those countries should be encouraged and helped to implement such measures, he added. (IANS)