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Islamic State (ISIS) Militant Group to Soon have a Strong Hold in Southeast Asia : Report

Analysts say as Islamic State (IS) militants are losing ground in Syria and Iraq, the terror group is attempting to expand in Southeast Asia

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An Islamic group member covers his face with Hizbut Tahrir flag during a protest against the decree allowing the government to disband organizations deemed to run counter to the secular state, in Jakarta, Indonesia
An Islamic group member covers his face with Hizbut Tahrir flag during a protest against the decree allowing the government to disband organizations deemed to run counter to the secular state, in Jakarta, Indonesia. VOA
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  • A number of IS affiliates from Indonesia have reportedly crossed into the Philippines to support the local militants
  • In the Philippines, Islamic State (IS)  has endorsed Isnilon Hapilon – the country’s most-wanted man who has a $5 million bounty placed on his head by the US
  • Ridwan Habib warned that the situation could get worse if the ongoing conflict in Marawi is not tackled and managed properly

Philippines, August 30, 2017: Government security forces in the Philippines city of Marawi have been fighting for the past three months to rout militants suspected of ties to the Islamic State (IS) militant group in the region.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte in May declared the country’s restive south under the martial rule for 60 days – which, in July, was extended through the end of the year – after an attempt by security forces to capture an Islamic State (IS) -linked militant leader failed. That set off clashes that left the city under siege.

A number of IS affiliates from Indonesia have reportedly crossed into the Philippines to support the local militants who are fighting against the Philippines military in the Marawi region.

Analysts say as Islamic State (IS) militants are losing ground in Syria and Iraq, the terror group is attempting to expand in Southeast Asia, which is home to a number of separatist and militant groups.

“This is an evidence that the people under Jamaah Islamiyah in Indonesia now have a new ‘flag’ operating under ISIS, in this case, ISIS of the Philippines,” said Ridwan Habib, a terrorism analyst at the University of Indonesia.

“Something serious is brewing and the government needs to anticipate what could happen next,” he said. “We‘re worried that this new identity.”

Extremist militant group

Jammah Islamiyah is an extremist militant group in Southeast Asia with links to al-Qaida and has carried out numerous bomb attacks in Indonesia and elsewhere in the region, including the 2002 Bali attacks that killed more than 200 people.

Islamic State (IS) has already shown signs of expanding in the region through local affiliates and sympathizers.

The group has been recruiting in Indonesia, with more than 380 people joining the terror group by January, according to the country’s counterterrorism agency. Most of those recruits have traveled to Syria and Iraq.

Greg Fealy, an associate professor at the Australian National University who studies terrorism in Indonesia, said the IS terror threat in the country has been on the rise since mid-2014.

Islamic State (IS) has reportedly tapped a leader in the Abu Sayyaf group – an extremist militant group in the region known for kidnapping and beheading foreign tourists – as its Southeast Asia chief.

Indonesian authorities also confirmed that IS posed a threat to their country.

The terror group claimed responsibility for a coordinated bomb and gun attack in central Jakarta in January that killed eight people, including the four attackers.

In March, U.S. Treasury authorities added Bahrun Naim, a prominent Indonesian militant, to the global terrorist list, saying he provided financial and operational support for IS in Indonesia and funneled money through Southeast Asia to recruit people to IS battlefields.

Also Read: UN Human Rights Chief Urges Iraqi Government to help Victims of Islamic State (ISIS) Sex Abuse

In the Philippines, Islamic State (IS)  has endorsed Isnilon Hapilon – the country’s most-wanted man who has a $5 million bounty placed on his head by the U.S. for alleged terrorist acts against American citizens – as the leader of a loosely affiliated association of small groups that have sprouted in the past three to four years around the central and southern Philippines.

Hapilon swore allegiance to Islamic State (IS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a July 2014 video, according to the U.S. State Department.

Philippines as a new destination

Some analysts say that many extremists in Indonesia who wish to join IS are now heading to the Philippines instead of Syria and Iraq because conditions in the terror group’s former strongholds have degraded due to the ongoing multi front military campaign against the group in the region.

“In terms of costs, distance, and access, the Philippines is more feasible,” Ridwan Habib of the University of Indonesia said. “Therefore, many jihadists from Indonesia chose to go to Marawi instead of going to Syria.”

Habib warned that the situation could get worse if the ongoing conflict in Marawi is not tackled and managed properly.

The analyst claimed that Mahmud Ahmad, a Malaysian militant in the Philippines who has studied in Islamabad, Pakistan, has been attempting to help establish an IS presence in the Southeast Asia region.

Ahmad was reported to have been killed in the Marawi battle in June, but Khalild Abu Bakar, a Malaysian police chief, told media that he believes Ahmad is still alive.

Gen. Eduardo Ano, chief of staff of the Philippines armed forces, said Ahmad channeled more than $600,000 from the IS group to acquire firearms, food and other supplies for the attack in Marawi, according to The Associated Press.

Also Read: Sudanese Children of Islamic State (ISIS) Militants Released in Libya

Returning IS fighters dilemma

Many fighters from Southeast Asia who had traveled to fight with IS in Syria and Iraq are returning to their home countries as the terror group is losing ground in the Middle East.

Indonesia’s government reported last year that between 169 and 300 Indonesians who fought for IS have returned home.

“Though I have said there are 50 (IS affiliates) in Bali, 25 in NTT (East Nusa Tenggara) and 600 in NTB (Nusa Tenggara Barat), their whereabouts are known to us and under control,” Major General Simandjuntak, a military commander in Bali, told reporters last week.

“They are in a sleep or inactive mode,” he added.

Abdul Haris Masyhari, chairman of the committee on defense and foreign relations in Indonesia’s parliament, worried that returning IS fighters could set up cells in their hometowns.

“In reference to Bali, I hope law enforcement would take action and preventive measures to thwart terror plots,” Masyhari said.

Opposition to Islamic State is growing in Indonesia amongst the public.

In May, a survey of 1,350 adults suggested nearly 90 percent of the participants viewed IS as a serious threat to their country. Meanwhile, several surveys conducted in the country indicate an increase in extremist ideology among the youth, who are idolizing radical figures. (VOA)

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The Woes Of Indonesia’s Children

According to Flint, Indonesia’s “reasonably high average income conceals a fair amount of underlying inequality.

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Two sick children wait for treatment after being admitTed to a hospital in Agats, Asmat District, after the government dispatched military and medical personnel to the remote region of Papua to combat malnutrition and measles, Indonesia. VOA

Despite its middle income status, Indonesia is dealing with what experts say are unexpectedly high rates of childhood stunting. Now, its government – starting with the the president – is declaring war on the issue and committing to boost its response to the challenge following a World Bank publication that says 37 percent of Indonesia’s children were stunted in 2013, a rate on par with some far more impoverished nations of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Stunting is the medical condition that the World Health Organization defines as “impaired growth and development that children experience from poor nutrition, repeated infection, and inadequate psychosocial stimulation.”

While Indonesia’s health ministry and other agencies have been battling to address the problem for years, the administration of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has now elevated the issue to be a national priority, making it a point to include it in last year’s Independence Day address.

“Before he mentioned it in the speech, I doubt it has ever been mentioned by a president in Indonesia,” said Claudia Rokx, a lead health specialist at the World Bank and one of the authors of the landmark book released last month.

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“If you’re malnourished during that first thousand days, the likelihood is that you would have suffered from irreversible brain damage,”

First 1,000 days

Health experts emphasize that the first 1,000 days of a child’s life are vital for preventing stunting, requiring adequate breastfeeding and nutrition, stimulation and activity, clean water and sanitation, and timely treatment of conditions like diarrhea and malaria.

With more than one in three Indonesian children being stunted, this means around 9 million children in Southeast Asia’s most populous country are suffering from developmental limitations.

Nusa Tenggara Timur, an impoverished province of eastern Indonesia, has the highest rate of stunting in Indonesia at 52 percent. Fifi Sumanti is a midwife on Komodo Island, known for its famous dragons and home to just 2,000 people. It is arid and most food must be brought in from other islands.

“Mothers here aren’t used to giving their children enough vegetables and fruit. They’re happier to give instant food to the children,” Sumanti told VOA. Hygiene awareness and access to clean water are also major problems, she said.

While the poorest parts of Indonesia suffer the highest rates of stunting, even among the richest proportion of Indonesians stunting is as high as 29 percent.

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Health experts emphasize that the first 1,000 days of a child’s life are vital for preventing stunting. Pixabay

Dr. Brian Sriprahastuti, a senior advisor to the office of the President of Indonesia on the issue of stunting, said the reasons for Indonesia’s stunting problem today go beyond the traditional factors of poverty and limited access to public services. “Now we have another hypothesis that behavior is the main problem of this stunting issue,” Sriprahastuti said.

Sumanti, the midwife, agrees.

“We need to speak with [mothers] more about what stunting is and give greater care from the time mothers are first pregnant until they give birth, until the time the child is three years old,” she said.

“If you’re malnourished during that first thousand days, the likelihood is that you would have suffered from irreversible brain damage,” said Simon Flint, a donor with the Asian Philanthropy Circle, a Singapore-based charity. It is thus, Flint said, “critically important” to prevent stunting to ensure “any intervention or expenditure on education,” adding it “could be so much more effective later on in a person’s life.”His group plans to launch a $10 million 1000 Days Fund by this March to support anti-stunting programs in Indonesia.

A new commitment

In the forward to the World Bank publication, the Indonesian president called current stunting rates “unacceptable” and pledged to prevent two million children from being stunted by 2021. “Eliminating stunting is therefore a main priority for our Government,” he wrote. “The Government is fully committed to do whatever it may take to achieve this goal.

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“I doubt it has ever been mentioned by a president in Indonesia,” said Claudia Rokx, a lead health specialist at the World Bank. Pixabay

Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank Group, said the government is investing in what he said are “evidence-based interventions” across 100 districts, to be expanded to the country’s 541 districts by 2021. “This initiative marks a decisive step up in the ambitions of the world’s fourth-most populous nation to tackle stunting as part of its commitment to sustained, inclusive economic growth,” he wrote.

According to Flint, Indonesia’s “reasonably high average income conceals a fair amount of underlying inequality. Just for example, according to government figures, in 2016 around 30 million Indonesians were still living on less than a dollar a day. There’s obviously a huge problem of inequality and lack of access among the poorest people.”

Sriprahastuti of the President’s Office said that the government was adopting a human rights-based approach. “For all pregnant women in Indonesia, everywhere, for all children under two, everywhere, we have to support them.”

Also Read: A Majority of Children Die Due to lack of Basic Healthcare Facilities: UN

“They know they have a huge problem, they’ve recognized it now. They are ready to do something about it. They’ve thrown a lot of money into it. They have the highest-level commitment, and they know it can be done in Indonesia as well,” said Rokx.

“Everything is in place for them to do it well, they just have to coordinate better, be persistent and make sure that these kids get the best start in life they can get.” (VOA)