Abstract: While much attention has been focused on the Islamic State threat to Europe, the increasingly fertile ground for jihadi expansion in Southeast Asia means the Islamic State may pose as big a future threat to the East as the West. Islamic State operatives inside Syria and Iraq have leveraged existing local networks in Southeast Asian countries to remotely enable terrorist plots in their home countries, and there is concern that foreign fighters, and not simply Southeast Asian returnees, will export terrorism to the region as the Islamic State suffers setbacks in Syria and Iraq. These threat trends may accelerate if the Islamic State declares a wilaya in parts of Southeast Asia where extremist groups already enjoy safe havens, creating a potential magnet for foreign fighters.

Much of the current analysis of the Islamic State focuses on its conflict against the West, and Europe in particular. This view, however, neglects the Islamic State’s global ambitions and reach. Asia, and particularly Southeast Asia, will likely provide key staging posts for the group, critical to its long-term fortunes. This article analyzes Islamic State and Islamic State-inspired activity in Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia by offering some parallels and contradistinctions vis-à-vis the situation in the West.

The Syria Factor
Individuals from Southeast Asia have been traveling to Syria (and to a lesser extent, Iraq) to take part in the armed struggle against the Assad regime and then to join the Islamic State or other jihadi groups. Most made the trip from 2013 onward, but a small number of trailblazers made the trip in the preceding years.

There is a lack of reliable government data on exact figures, but the number of people from Southeast Asia who have entered Syria and Iraq to join jihadi groups is thought to be between 600 and 900, which includes women and children.a From Indonesia, estimates vary; between 300 and 800 people are believed to have successfully made the journey.b By December 2015, Turkey had deported at least 215 Indonesian citizens (60 percent women and children) who were caught attempting to cross the border into Syria.1 As for Malaysia, the official tally of militants who had made the journey to Syria stood at approximately 90 in January 2017. Twenty-four Malaysians have been killed, and eight have returned.c Approximately 260 Islamic State sympathizers have also been arrested in Malaysia for suspected involvement in militant activities, and 10 Islamic State-linked plots have been interdicted (with one small-scale attack getting through in 2016, which is outlined below).d The numbers of fighters from the Philippines range from two to 100,3 but no official figures have been released. Thailand likewise has no credible figures on the number of fighters, although their presence in small numbers (as with Cambodian Cham Muslims) cannot be discounted.4 Singapore authorities have acknowledged a “handful” of Singaporeans joining the Islamic State in Syria-Iraq.e

During the 1980s, hundreds of Southeast Asians traveled to Afghanistan through Pakistan to fight with the mujahideen against the Soviet Union. A rough estimate of the number of Filipinos is between 300 and 500,5 while up to 800 Indonesians may have made the trip.6 However, according to one Indonesian scholar interviewed in 2001, many of these may actually have remained in Peshawar, Pakistan, and not taken part in the conflict.7 Those traveling to Afghanistan during the 1980s trickled in over a number of years, whereas the current crop in the Middle East has been more concentrated, traveling over a shorter span of time and in many cases bringing their families, which was not a feature of the Afghan jihad.

Some differences in data should be noted here, especially for those readers more familiar with the European situation. Security services in Southeast Asian nations do not routinely release figures on citizens who are considered to be radicalized or those who have made attempts to join jihadi groups abroad. There are also few reliable estimates on how many individuals security services are monitoring across the region. The general opacity of data must be taken into consideration when analyzing the Southeast Asian situation.

As with those seeking to leave Europe, travel to the conflict region for Southeast Asians has become more difficult since late 2015. Nonetheless, entry has remained a possibility, even as routes have become more unpredictable and convoluted. For instance, four men from Indonesia were deported from Singapore in February 2016 after it was established that they planned to go to Syria.8 There is some suggestion that the group believed that transiting through Singapore would assist in building a less suspicious travel footprint.9

Southeast Asia (Rowan Technology)

A Drumbeat of Terror 
Terrorist attacks in Indonesia predate 9/11. In 2000, 19 people were killed and dozens were injured after a string of church bombings on Christmas Eve in Indonesia, carried out by operatives from Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), which was established in 1993 and became the key al-Qa`ida affiliate in Southeast Asia. In Singapore, a series of JI plots—including planned attacks on a subway station and a bus shuttle service used by U.S. service members, and a number of embassies—were thwarted by authorities in late 2001. There were further interdictions in Singapore in the 2000s. Terrorists were more successful in the wider Southeast Asian region. Indonesia’s most deadly and well-known terror attack was the Bali bombings in 2002, carried out by the JI, but other plots in Indonesia have also come to fruition. These included bombings of hotels and embassies in 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2009, all carried out by JI or JI splinter groups. Singapore, which for some time after 9/11 was preoccupied with JI, now faces a more complex range of threats. In addition to attacks carried out by jihadi organizations, there is now the danger of lone actors who have become radicalized by engaging with material online. In April and May 2015, two self-radicalized young men were detained by Singaporean authorities; one had plotted to kill government leaders in Singapore as a secondary plan if he was unable to join the Islamic State in Syria.10

Another type of threat was discovered in the interdiction (announced in January and May 2016) of two separate cells of radicalized Bangladeshi migrant workers in Singapore (numbering some 35 in total), who were employed in the construction industry. The second cell referred to itself as the Islamic State in Bangladesh and was allegedly focused on carrying out attacks within Bangladesh.11 However, as analysts and policymakers in Singapore have observed, it would only have taken one of them to think in terms of global jihad for Singapore to be viewed as a target.12

Home to a large expatriate population, Singapore is part of the U.S.-led global coalition in the fight against the Islamic State and has a good track record of interdicting jihadis. Its people and iconic landmarks have also been terrorist targets in the recent past. In August 2016, Indonesian police arrested six men on the island of Batam, which is less than 30 kilometers from Singapore. The cell, linked to (and ultimately answering to) a Syria-based Indonesian Islamic State leader named Bahrun Naim, had planned to build homemade rockets to fire at Singapore’s iconic Marina Bay area.f

There has been a drumbeat of terrorist attacks in Southeast Asia in the past few years. One instance was the Erawan Shrine bombing in Bangkok on August 15, 2015, which killed 20 people and injured 120. Two Chinese nationals from the Muslim Uighur minority are, at the time of writing, on trial in Bangkok, charged with staging the attack.13 The bombing is thought to have been motivated either by anger over the repatriation of Uighur migrants to China or by revenge from the people-smuggling syndicate that facilitated their entry to Thailand.14 g According to a United Nations report published early this year, the threat from the Islamic State to Southeast Asia is “gaining momentum,” with the group increasing its focus on the region as a potential recruiting ground.15

Most foreign terrorist fighters from Southeast Asia have thus far remained in Syria and Iraq rather than returning home.16 But while there has not yet to date been an Islamic State-directed plot in Southeast Asia in which plotters were recruited in person by the group and tasked with returning to carry out attacks, 2016 saw a string of plots “enabled” by Southeast Asian Islamic State operatives inside Syria and Iraq. In these instances, operatives communicated instructions and encouragement to Islamic State-aligned cells and sympathizers in their home countries.

Malaysia witnessed its first Islamic State-enabled attack on June 28, 2016, when a grenade was lobbed into a bar near the nation’s capital. Fortunately, there were no fatalities. The cell responsible was provided instructions by Muhammad Wanndy Mohamad Jedi, the most well-known of the Malaysian Islamic State fighters in Syria.17 In Indonesia, recent Islamic State-enabled attacks include those in central Jakarta on January 14, 2016, in which a suicide bomber blew himself up inside a Starbucks cafe, another assailant detonated a small bomb outside a nearby police post, and then two others opened fire on the crowd of onlookers. Eight people were killed, including the four attackers. Despite the coordinated nature of the attacks, the execution was poor. The plan was allegedly masterminded by Aman Abdurrahman, a radical and influential Indonesian ideologue who has been incarcerated since 2011.18 h Indonesian militants thought to be in Syria may also have enabled the January 2016 Jakarta attacks, but there are conflicting reports over whether Bahrun Naim or another Indonesian Islamic State figure known as Bahrumsyah influenced the plot from Syria.19 Naim’s controlling hand was, however, clear in the most recent attack in Indonesia, the failed suicide bombing of a police station in the Central Java city of Solo in July 2016, in which only the attacker was killed.20 i

Some have also suggested that background fissures or rivalry within the leadership of the Katibah Nusantara (the Indonesian/Malay brigade within the Islamic State) itself played some role in the attack.21 However, this is speculation. There is still much to be known about the Katibah. It is, in fact, not altogether clear how coherent the group is or whether it has a unified structure, especially bearing in mind the argument put forward by some analysts (including Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, based on Islamic State primary documents) that there is general Islamic State guidance not to operate national brigades.22

In the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, the faction of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) led by Isnilon Hapilon and two other groups pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a video released in early 2016.23 j The Islamic State response was to acknowledge the pledge on February 14, 2016, through its al-Furat media wing, but the group seems to have stopped short of an official and open declaration of a wilaya in the southern Philippines.24 k According to al-Tamimi, one possible reason the Islamic State leadership is less enthusiastic about the “wilaya” model than it was previously is because such declarations lack credibility if there is no semblance of genuine administration on the ground within these franchises.25 Other equally plausible reasons could also be advanced. The Islamic State may not think that Mindanao has the makings of a viable state with its attendant structure and administration or, as some have posited, the senior leadership of the Islamic State may simply be looking for all Southeast Asian extremist groups to unite behind a single emir before it declares an official wilaya.26 Currently, there appears to be insufficient cooperation between groups in the region, or indeed within individual countries such as the Philippines, for a single leader to emerge in the near future. Still, cooperation has occurred on an ad hoc basis. An example is the Davao City market bombing in the southern Philippines on September 2, 2016, that killed 15 and wounded approximately 70. While the actual responsibility lies buried beneath claim and counter-claim, the available evidence suggests that the attack was the result of cooperation between Hapilon’s faction of the ASG, the little-known Maute group, and a group that pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in August 2014, Ansarul Khilafa Philippines.27

An actual declaration of a pan-Southeast Asian wilaya in the area described above would inevitably have a major impact on the regional security environment. The Islamic State could legitimately claim to have at least a foothold in a triangle comprised of Mindanao, the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, and Malaysian and Indonesian territory on Borneo. These regions are relatively remote, and the reach of various security services into these areas is not particularly strong. The declaration of a new wilaya in Southeast Asia could transform this area into a powerful magnet for jihadis seeking sanctuary, including Islamic State fighters from Southeast Asia currently in Iraq and Syria, who may return, with enhanced capabilities, as the group continues to lose ground there.l

But the blowback will likely not be limited to Southeast Asian returnees. Already, there are signs of others coming to the region. In April 2016, a Moroccan bomb-making instructor named Mohammed Katab was killed in a firefight on the southern Philippines island of Basilan.28 In 2014, the now-deceased Mujahidin Indonesia Timur (MIT) leader Santoso, aka Abu Wardah, was sent a small group of Uighur men from Kuala Lumpur after he made a request for resources to Indonesian Islamic State leader Abu Jandal in Syria.29 Four were arrested in September 2014 in central Poso, but others made it through. The last MIT Uighur member was killed in a joint Indonesian police-military operation in the jungles of Central Sulawesi in August 2016.30 Other Uighurs have also popped up on security radars elsewhere in the region from time to time. A cell in the Indonesian island of Batam known as KGR@Katibah GR that had plans to attack the Marina Bay area of Singapore with a rocket is known to have harbored two Uighur militants.m

East and West
The likely fall of Mosul in the coming months, and a likely future effort by either anti-Islamic State coalition or Kurdish forces (or both) to take Raqqa, raises many questions. Where does the future of the Islamic State lie? What will its game plan be? It may well be that the organization will direct its remaining energy on fomenting attacks in the West, with one Islamic State fighter recently suggesting as much in an interview.n Many foreign fighters will likely leave Syria and Iraq with Europe in mind. It is equally clear, however, that the Islamic State has a commitment to Southeast Asia, and this interest is likely to increase as the organization suffers further setbacks on the battlefield in Syria and Iraq. Many returnees to Southeast Asia will, of course, be native to the region, and some will be able to leverage links and networks they have in their home countries.o But it would be a mistake to assume that it is only Southeast Asians in Syria and Iraq who will attempt to make the journey. Others with no connection to the region might also attempt it. The presence of Uighurs in Southeast Asian cells (as well as their likely involvement in the Erawan Shrine bombing) is one such example. Some of the Uighurs who came to Indonesia are known to have made the journey using established human trafficking networks to move through Myanmar, Thailand, and Malaysia and then into the hotspots of Indonesia such as Poso.p There is a further risk of “conflict being exported to the region,” according to the United Nations. As an unnamed member state has reported, there is a trend among foreign terrorist fighters of non-Southeast Asian origin who face deportation requesting to be sent to Southeast Asian countries where a visa is not required, instead of their home countries.31

Moving forward, it will be important to better understand the multifaceted nature of the returnee issue, where—in terms of the numbers—Southeast Asia lags behind Europe. As the European example has shown, not all returnees are bent on fomenting attacks. Some may want nothing more to do with violence. Others may remain ambivalent. By understanding the Western (and particularly European) trajectories better, Southeast Asian countries can better prepare themselves for the coming foreign fighter blowback. Identifying and publicizing narratives of disillusionment will be key to thwarting the ability of the Islamic State and its franchises to make physical or ideological gains in Southeast Asia.

There are several ongoing issues as well as longer-term trends that the Islamic State might seek to leverage in Southeast Asia. There has, in recent years, been increased religious conservatism and rising intolerance throughout the region, linked in part to salafi/Wahhabi strains of thought and takfiri ideology becoming more influential in some quarters.q One cannot discount the possibility that the Islamic State, or the group’s returnees in Indonesia and Malaysia, will take advantage of this heightened intolerance, much in the same way that al-Qa`ida and then the Islamic State has attempted to take advantage of similar sentiment in Bangladesh.32

Causes Célèbres
There are also specific causes that the Islamic State and its returnees might attempt to leverage. The rising tide of anti-Shi`a sentiment in both Malaysia and Indonesia has been well-documented.33 The treatment of Uighur Muslims in Western China has provided global terrorists with a longstanding grievance to exploit. The increasingly bloody nature of the Rohingya conflict and the exodus of Rohingya refugees from Rakhine State in Myanmar is inflaming regional mainstream Muslim opinion.

The plight of the Rohingya is not simply a focus of attention in Malaysia. It has also prompted a significant uptick in pro-Rohingya social media output production with a distinctly militant tinge (including on mainstream platforms such as Facebook and YouTube but also extending to closed platforms such as Telegram). Some of this content has its origins in Southeast Asia, but some disseminators appear to be based farther afield.34 The Rohingya issue has also attracted attention from Indonesian extremists. In late November 2016, Indonesian police arrested three militants from a cell (whose members had sworn allegiance to the Islamic State) planning a bomb attack against the Myanmar embassy in Jakarta, among other targets.35 r In 2013, a plot against the same embassy by local extremists angered by the persecution of the Rohingya was also foiled.36

The plight of Rohingya refugees has also gained some degree of notice from groups ranging from the Islamic State to the Taliban.s The ethnic and sectarian conflict in Myanmar has already spilled over into Bangladesh, and there are growing signs that what started out as ethnic violence has attracted notice from transnational jihadi groups and Rohingya militants with international connections.37 And just as in Bangladesh, there now appear to be signs of the targeting of prominent activists (and activists for moderation and dialogue) in Myanmar.t

It is worth noting, too, that late 2016 saw the emergence of an armed Rohingya movement in the form of Harakah al-Yakin (HaY), also known as the Faith Movement or Faith Movement Arakan. This group was responsible for  the attack on Myanmar military outposts in Rakhine province on October 9, 2016, which in turn triggered a military crackdown on the Rohingya and led to widespread accusations of disproportionate force and atrocities. The Harakah al-Yakin’s beginnings can be traced back to the 2012 sectarian violence between Buddhists and Rohingyas in Myanmar. At least some of its members appear to have fought in other conflicts, and members of its core leadership appear to be based in Saudi Arabia.38

Extremist activity in Southeast Asia has recently continued to escalate, with some of the most recent arrests showing a distinctly transregional or transnational flavor. In January 2017, for example, four individuals—two Bangladeshi nationals, a Filipino man, and a Malaysian woman—were arrested in Malaysia for suspected involvement in a new Islamic State affiliated-cell based in the Philippines.u Senior Filipino officials, citing recent intelligence, have noted that extremists in the southern Philippines have been in regular communication with the Islamic State, with the means of contact ranging from social media to text messages to telephone calls.39 Others comments, perhaps understandably more cryptic, by senior security officials have suggested that terror cells in the Philippines, southern Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia are becoming more organized and are pledging allegiance to the Islamic State.40 ASG leader Hapilon,v the putative emir of the Islamic State in the Philippines, has, according to recent reports, moved from the traditional Abu Sayyaf stronghold of Basilan to Central Mindanao allegedly at the behest of the Islamic State with the aim of assessing whether Central Mindanao would be more conducive to the establishment of a wilaya. In doing so, Hapilon is said to have linked up with other extremists, including the shadowy Maute Group, which has recently shown pro-Islamic state tendencies of its own.41

The situation in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and the surrounding areas might evolve in a very unpredictable manner, where cells and individuals cast adrift by the conflict in Syria and Iraq could well fuse with local groups, even as these groups themselves seek to consolidate and collaborate. It cannot be ruled out that others might be co-opted into the mix, including crime syndicates (such as human trafficking rings) or even secessionist groups.w While much attention has been focused on the Islamic State threat to Europe, the potentially fertile ground for jihadi expansion in Southeast Asia means the future of the Islamic State terror threat may lie as much in the East as in the West.     CTC

Shashi Jayakumar is head of the Centre of Excellence for National Security (CENS) at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. His research interests include violent extremism, radicalization, and issues in the cyber domain.

The author wishes to thank Cameron Sumpter (associate research fellow at CENS) and Juhi Ajuha (research analyst at CENS) for their assistance in the preparation of this article.

Substantive Notes
[a] For one estimate of the numbers, although the figures are by no means undisputed, see “Foreign Fighters: An Updated Assessment of the Flow of Foreign Fighters into Syria and Iraq,” The Soufan Group, December 2015. Individuals from Southeast Asian countries are known to have made the journey to Syria/Iraq in 2016, but there is no consensus by experts on even approximate numbers.

[b] Estimates given by Indonesian intelligence and security officials differ. See, for example, Kirsten E. Schulze, “The Jakarta Attack and the Islamic State Threat to Indonesia,” CTC Sentinel 9:1 (2016): p. 29. Arriving at accurate figures is further complicated by the fact that different Indonesian authorities (even official ones) give different figures, with one particular authority occasionally providing different numbers. The issue is also clouded by the fact that many fighters were accompanied by their wives and children when making the journey. For the range of estimates and the difficulties with the evidence, see Greg Fealy and John Funston, Indonesian and Malaysian Support for the Islamic State, paper produced for review by the United States Agency for International Development, January 6, 2016.

[c] This is according to police data. See “Malaysian Police Arrest 3 Islamic State sympathizers,” Reuters, January 31, 2017.

[d] The profile of Malaysian Islamic State sympathizers as well as those actually joining is interesting. Several boast relatively high-level qualifications. Others include civil servants and individuals (numbering as many as 70) from the armed forces (including Special Forces). More work needs to be done to understand why the Malaysian profile type differs significantly from that of the average Indonesian Islamic State fighter or sympathizer. For more on Malaysian profiles, see “Many civil servants believed to be involved in ISIS operations in Malaysia: Sources,” Straits Times, December 18, 2014, and Bruce Wright, “Malaysia Army and ISIS: 70 Soldiers have Joined Islamic State, officials say,” International Business Times, April 13, 2015.

[e] The term “handful” was used by Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean in a speech made to Parliament in July 2014. Imelda Saad, “‘Handful’ of Singaporeans went to Syria to join conflict: DPM Teo,” Channel NewsAsia, July 9, 2014.

[f] According to Indonesian authorities, the leader of the cell planning to attack Marina Bay, Gigih Rahmat Dewa, had been planning the attack with Bahrun Naim, with Gigih taking orders from Naim. Arlina Arshad, “Plan to Attack Marina Bay with rocket from Batam foiled,” Straits Times, August 6, 2016.

[g] It should be noted that this is just one possible explanation and that there is much that remains unclear about the structure and motivations of the cell that carried out the attack. For an exploration of some further possibilities, see Zachary Abuza, “The Riddle of the Bangkok Bombings,” CTC Sentinel 8:10 (2015): pp. 34-36.

[h] The Indonesian police, while also assigning a role to Aman Abdurrahman, have also pinned the blame on the Indonesian militants in Syria, which, according to them, facilitated money transfers. See, for example, Francis Chan and Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja, “ISIS ‘funded attack in Jakarta,’” Straits Times, March 5, 2016. Funds for the attack were transferred to Jakarta from Syria using an internal money remitter. “Nineteenth report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team concerning Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and associated individuals, groups, undertakings and entities,” United Nations Security Council, January 13, 2017, p. 19.

[i] Naim directly communicated with the bomber, Nur Rohman, through encrypted messaging apps including Telegram. It appears that these communications included instructions on the making of IEDs. “The Failed Solo Suicide Bombing and Bahrun Naim’s network,” IPAC Report No. 30, Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, July 2016.

[j] Hapilon had first pledged his loyalty to the Islamic State in June 2014.

[k] Notwithstanding the Islamic State’s acknowledgement of this pledge, it should be noted that there are other extremists groups in the Philippines that do not yet appear to have recognized Hapilon’s supremacy; some also appear to have made separate pledges to the Islamic State.

[l] There is some suggestion that a trickle of returnees to Indonesia and Malaysia had begun by 2016. Based on figures sometimes given out by security officials, the approximate numbers are several dozen for Indonesia (of whom a handful had been arrested) and considerably fewer for Malaysia, although officials have claimed that many more Malaysians are keen to return home. See “Dozens of ISIS combat veterans have returned to the world’s biggest Muslim-majority nation,” Reuters, October 17, 2016; “Indonesian authorities detain 17 nationals returning from Syria,” Reuters, January 22, 2017; and Naim Zulkifli, “IGP: 50 Msian ISIS fighters attempting to return, police will try to help passage,” New Straits Times, November 24, 2016.

[m] As Indonesian counterterrorism officials have acknowledged, there is ongoing cooperation with Chinese authorities on this very issue of stemming the flow of Uighurs attempting to make common cause with militants in Indonesia. “Indonesia turns to China as ethnic Uighurs join would-be jihadists,” Reuters, January 6, 2016. For unconfirmed reports that Uighurs have attempted to link up with ASG militants in the southern Philippines, see Rommel C. Banlaoi, “Uyghur militants in Southeast Asia: Should PH be worried?” Rappler, January 7, 2016.

[n] This was Rachid Kassim, a French Islamic State operative believed to have been killed in Iraq in February 2017. For the interview, see Amarnath Amarasingham, “An Interview with Rachid Kassim, Jihadist Orchestrating Attacks in France,” posted on Jihadology, November 18, 2016.

[o] Leaders of the Katibah Nusantara clearly have established networks in Indonesia, occasionally directing attacks—with varying degrees of success—in that country. See, for example, “The Failed Solo Suicide Bombing and Bahrun Naim’s Network.” Abu Jandal was another key leader of the Indonesian battalion in Syria/Iraq who is viewed by some experts as having more of an operational/fighting role than Bahrun Naim. He was killed in Mosul in early November 2016, according to reports that appear to have been confirmed by his family and also appear supported by social media postings in vernacular Indonesian (postings linked in all likelihood to those from his circle). These reports, while seemingly credible, have at the time of writing yet to be definitively verified. See Fatiyah Wardah and Noor Zahid, “Authorities Probe Report Death of Indonesian Islamic State Leader,” Voice of America, November 10, 2016. Jandal is known to have had a network of Islamic State sympathizers in his hometown of Malang in East Java. “Police name three alleged members of ISIS as suspects,” Antara News, March 26, 2015.

[p] This is as noted by Saud Usman Nasution, the then-chief of the Indonesian National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT). Randi Fabi and Augustinus Beo Da Costa, “Indonesia turns to China as ethnic Uighurs join would-be jihadis,” Reuters, January 6, 2016. Separately, there are also thought to be in excess of 1,000 Uighur refugees already in Southeast Asia, fleeing (by their account) Chinese persecution or linked to the militant Turkestan Islamic Movement (by the Chinese account). Rommel C. Banlaoi, “Uyghur militants in Southeast Asia: Should PH be worried?” Rappler, July 13, 2016.

[q] There is a great amount of literature on this. See Sidney Jones, “Why Indonesian Extremists are Gaining Ground,” Interpreter, November 1, 2016, and Murray Heibert, “Indonesia’s Mounting Intolerance towards Minority Groups prompts concern,” CSIS Commentary, April 14, 2016. It should be noted, however, that there has not been a discernible uptick in actual support for the Islamic State in Indonesia specifically or the region more broadly. An oft-cited Pew Research Center survey of several countries with predominantly Muslim populations (released in November 2015, with polling done from April-May that year) found overwhelmingly negative views among Indonesians on the Islamic State, with only four percent of those polled expressing favorable or somewhat favorable views of the group. See Jacob Poushter, “In nations with significant Muslim populations, much disdain for ISIS,” Pew Research Center, November 17, 2015, and “Views of ISIS Topline,” Pew Research Center, November 17, 2015. See also Joshua Kurlantzick, “Southeast Asia—The Islamic State’s New Front?” Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, October 4, 2016.

[r] This plot appears to have been a credible one and one that had advanced beyond the preliminary planning stage. The high-grade explosives recovered in the operation were estimated to be double (in terms of potential impact) the quantity used in the Jemaah Islamiyah’s Bali October 12, 2002, attacks, which killed 202 people. Niniek Karmini, “Indonesia says 2 militants arrested in Myanmar Embassy plot,” AP, November 27, 2016.

[s] In his well-known July 1, 2014, speech announcing the establishment of the caliphate, Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made a direct allusion to the plight of the Rohingya: “So raise your ambitions, O soldiers of the Islamic State! For your brothers all over the world are waiting for your rescue, and are anticipating your brigades. It is enough for you to just look at the scenes that have reached you from Central Africa, and from Burma before that. What is hidden from us is far worse. So by Allah, we will take revenge!” For the critical portions of the speech, see “What did Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi say?” Middle East Eye, July 5, 2014. Separately, a Taliban statement issued in late November 2016 condemned the “the genocide of the over one million minority Muslims of Burma,” placing the blame on the “cruel barbaric actions of the Burmese rulers” and calling on “the entire Muslim Ummah to utilize every means at their disposal to safeguard and protect the oppressed Muslims of Burma.” Aaron Zelin, “New statement from the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan: ‘Concerning Genocide Against the Weak Muslims of Burma,’” posted on Jihadology, November 30, 2016.

[t] A possible case in point is the assassination of U Ko Ni, a prominent Muslim lawyer and close advisor to Myanmar Prime Minister Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy. Ko Ni had spoken out regularly on human rights issues and against worsening sectarian tensions in the country. It should be noted, however, there is much that remains unclear at the time of writing as to the motivations of the perpetrator, who is in custody. See Wai Moe, “U Ko Ni, a Prominent Muslim lawyer in Myanmar, is Fatally Shot,” New York Times, January 29, 2017.

[u] According to the Malaysian police, the cell planned to make Sabah (the part of East Malaysia close to the southern Philippines) a transit point for terrorists from Southeast and South Asia into Mindanao in the southern Philippines. The Filipino cell member was allegedly tasked to recruit new Islamic State members from Malaysia, Indonesia, and Bangladesh (including Rohingyas) into Mindanao, while the Bangladeshi cell members were thought to have connections to Islamic State-linked groups in Bangladesh and planned to travel to the southern Philippines. “Malaysia Arrests 4 for alleged involvement in new terror cell in Philippines,” Channel NewsAsia, January 23, 2017.

[v] Officials in the Philippines claimed Hapilon was injured in an assault on militants in January 2017. But these claims have not been corroborated, and there have been numerous mistaken claims over the years on the killing or wounding of key terrorist operatives in the region. Jim Gomez, “Philippine Offensive Reportedly Wounds Top Militant Suspect,” Associated Press, January 27, 2017.

[w] One example is the Chinese Uighur separatist movement. Thai authorities have, on various occasions, placed the blame for the 2015 Erawan Shrine attack in Bangkok on criminal networks responsible for the trafficking of Uighurs in and out of Southeast Asia. As noted earlier, the Isnilon Hapilon-led faction of the Abu Sayyaf Group has, over time, taken on an increasingly pro-Islamic State orientation, but this does not mean that it has completely forsaken its historical income-generating activities such as kidnapping, racketeering, and extortion. For the Abu Sayyaf Group specifically, see “Abu Sayyaf has 25-year record of kidnappings and bombings,” CBCNews, April 25, 2016. For an example of other armed groups with grievances that are ancestral/territorial in nature and span national boundaries, see Gregory Poling, Phoebe DePadua, and Jennifer Frentasia, “Royal Army of Sulu Invades Malaysia,” CSIS Analysis, March 8, 2013. The southern Thai secessionist insurgency, on the other hand, while having Islamist overtones, remains primarily driven by ethno-separatist concerns. The various movements implicated in the violence have never been conclusively linked to international terrorist groups in any organized sense. For more on the history and the groups involved, see “Thailand Islamic Insurgency,” Global Security. See also Joshua Kurlantzick, “Thailand’s Secessionist Muslim Insurgency Escalates,” National, October 20, 2012.

[1] “Disunity Among Indonesian ISIS Supporters and the Risk of More Violence,” IPAC Report No. 25, Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, February 1, 2016, p. 12.

[2] “Malaysia arrests 4 for alleged involvement in new Islamic State Cell in Philippines,” Channel NewsAsia, January 23, 2017; Marc Lourdes, “Islamic State launches first successful attack in Malaysia,” CNN, July 4, 2016; Jeevan Vasagar, “Three men arrested over alleged Malaysia terror plot,” Financial Times, August 31, 2016.

[3] Carmela Fonbuena, “FVR: Raw intel says 100 Filipinos training with ISIS,” Rappler, August 20, 2014.

[4] “‘No credible threat’ of ISIS attack in Thailand,” Reuters, December 9, 2015.

[5] “Moro Islamic Liberation Front,” Stanford University Mapping Militant Organizations.

[6] “Indonesia: Violence and Radical Muslims,” International Crisis Group Indonesia Briefing, October 10, 2001, p. 2 and footnote 9.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Arlina Arshad, “Four Indonesians deported while ‘travelling to join ISIS’ via Singapore,” Straits Times, February 23, 2016.

[9] Zakir Hussain, “How ISIS supporters passing through Singapore were nabbed,” Straits Times, March 6, 2016.

[10] “Arrest and Detention of Self-Radicalised Singaporeans under the Internal Security Act,” Singapore Ministry of Home Affairs Press Release, May 27, 2015.

[11] “27 radicalised Bangladeshis arrested in Singapore under the Internal Security Act,” Straits Times, January 20, 2016; “Bangladeshi Group met in Parks, Plotted Attacks, says Singapore,” Reuters, May 4, 2016.

[12] Shea Driscoll, “27 radicalised Bangladeshis arrested under ISA: What you need to know in 8 points,” Straits Times, January 20, 2016.

[13] “Bangkok bomb trial of Chinese Uighurs begins after delays,” Reuters, November 15, 2016.

[14] See Oliver Holmes, “Thai police say Uighur trafficking ring behind Bangkok bombing,” Guardian, September 15, 2015.

[15] “Nineteenth report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team concerning Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Da’esh), Al-Qa`ida and associated individuals, groups, undertakings and entities,” United Nations Security Council, January 13, 2017, p. 19.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Hariz Mohd, “Confirmed: Puchong grenade attack done by IS operatives,” New Straits Times, July 4, 2016; “Malaysia Police Arrests 9 ISIS suspects including Puchong militants in 4-state swoop,” Straits Times, August 13, 2016.

[18] “Disunity among Indonesian ISIS Supporters and the risk of More Violence,” p. 1, pp. 10-12.

[19] For more on the contradictory reporting on the January 2017, see Francis Chan, “Indonesian terror network backed deadly Jan 14 strike,” Straits Times, January 15, 2017.

[20] Fransiska Nangoy and Nilufar Rizki, “IS-linked suicide bomber attacks Indonesia police, wounding one,” Reuters, July 5, 2016.

[21] “Disunity among Indonesian ISIS Supporters and the risk of More Violence.”

[22] Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, “The Islamic State ‘Masterplan’ of Administration—Some Analytical Notes,” December 7, 2015.

[23] “Fighters in Philippines Pledge Allegiance in Video to IS Leader,” SITE Intelligence Group, January 4, 2016. For a useful short study of the situation in the Philippines and of the groups involved, see Peter Chalk, “The Islamic State in the Philippines: A Looming Shadow in Southeast Asia?” CTC Sentinel 9:3 (2016).

[24] “ISIS officially recognises pledges of allegiance from militant groups in the Philippines,” Straits Times, February 15, 2016.

[25] See Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, “Observations on the new Islamic State video ‘Structure of the Caliphate,’” July 6, 2016.

[26] See Zachary Abuza, “Trouble in the Southern Philippines: Problems and Prospects,” Diplomat, April 28, 2016.

[27] “Nineteenth report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team concerning Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and associated individuals, groups, undertakings and entities,” p. 19.

[28] Roel Pareño, “Militant Moroccan bomb expert among killed in Basilan clash,” Philippine Star, April 10, 2016.

[29] “Online Activism and Social Media Usage Among Indonesian Extremists,” IPAC Report No. 24, Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, October 2015, p. 14.

[30] “Four ISIS suspects arrested by Indonesia are Uighurs from China: Police,” AFP, September 15, 2015; Ruslan Sangadji, “Last Uighur member of MIT shot dead,” Jakarta Post, August 18, 2016.

[31] “Nineteenth report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team concerning Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and associated individuals, groups, undertakings and entities,” p. 20.

[32] See Animesh Roul, “How Bangladesh became fertile ground for al-Qaeda and the Islamic State,” CTC Sentinel 9:5 (2016), pp. 27-33.

[33] For growing intolerance against the Shi`a in Indonesia generally, partly condoned by the religious authorities, see Ethan Harfenist, “Anti-Shia Sentiment Simmers Ahead of Indonesia’s Election,” Vice News, May 27, 2014. For the August 2012 attack against the Shi`a community in Sampang (East Java) that killed two people, see Indra Harsaputra and Margareth S. Aritonang, “Sampang Shia in peril,” Jakarta Post, May 8, 2013. For Malaysia, see Rodger Shanahan, “Malaysia and its Shi‘a ‘Problem,’” Middle East Institute, July 25, 2014.

[34] Author’s analysis, social media platforms/channels relating to the Rohingya cause.

[35] “Militants were planning Embassy attack,” AFP, November 27, 2016.

[36] “Indonesian plotted on Facebook to attack Myanmar embassy,” Australian Broadcasting Corporation/AFP, November 6, 2013.

[37] For a detailed treatment of the issue, see Myanmar: A New Muslim Insurgency in Rakhine State, International Crisis Group Asia Report 283, December 15, 2016. Excellent, shorter synopses of what is known and some future likelihoods can be found in two pieces by Jasminder Singh and Muhammad Haziq Jani: “Myanmar’s Rohingya Conflict: Foreign Jihadi Brewing,” RSIS Commentary 259 (2016) and “The Rohingya Crises: Regional Security Implications,” RSIS Commentary 293 (2016).

[38] For a detailed treatment of the current issues at play and a discussion of the Harakah al-Yakin, see Myanmar: A New Muslim Insurgency in Rakhine State, International Crisis Group Asia Report 283, December 15, 2016. A convenient summary can be found in Tim Johnston and Anakha Neelakantan, “The World’s Newest Muslim Insurgency Is Being Waged in Burma,” Time, December 14, 2016. See also Richard Paddock, Ellen Barry, and Mark Ives, “Persecuted Minority in Myanmar Is Escalating Its Armed Insurgency,” New York Times, January 19, 2017.

[39] “Manila finds strong links between ISIS and rebels in South,” Straits Times, February 11, 2017.

[40] “Malaysian militants fight on in Iraq, Syria,” Straits Times, December 14, 2016.

[41] Chiara Zambrano, “Military Offensive vs terror groups starts anew in Lanao del Sur town,” ABS-CBN News, January 27, 2017.

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