This photo taken on July 12, 2017 shows Philippine troops marching towards the frontline where they are battling militants in Marawi on the southern island of Mindanao. IS and its brutal ideology is inspiring Southeast Asian groups to be more cohesive and transnational. AFP Photo

THE Southeast Asian threat environment has significantly evolved over the past 10 years since the 9/11 attacks.

Southeast Asian religious terrorist groups have established greater links with Middle Eastern terrorist groups. These groups are influenced by global events and developments within the global Muslim communities and will continue to grow unconditionally.

Governments in Southeast Asia should take a more active role in preventing the spread of radical Islam within the region, amid the emergence and rise of Islamic State (IS) in the Marawi region of the Philippines. IS and its brutal ideology is inspiring Southeast Asian groups to be more cohesive and transnational.

A more frightening scenario is the fact that these groups have joined forces and are collaborating in the name of jihad in the region.

The International Association for Counterterrorism and Security Professionals — Centre for Security Studies, Southeast Asia Regional Centre has called attention to the rise of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and al-Qaeda. An indication of the re-emergence of al-Qaeda and JI is the Marawi attacks carried out by Maute.

Governments in the region should not be too optimistic in thinking that addressing the social-economic inequalities will prevent the rise of religious terrorism, but instead try to reduce perceived grievances and thereby minimise the threat and motivation to turn to extremism. A major component of motivational indoctrination is done through social media where IS has strong capabilities.

Asian youths are Internet-connected and it is fertile ground for IS to carry out online radicalisation.

There are some 300,000 pro-IS websites and more than 300 radical and religious extremist groups operating in the region. Many of them have been radicalised and indoctrinated about the needs of the “caliph” to fight for a cause under a “legitimate Islamic government and military force”.

More than half of these websites and groups come from Indonesia, followed by Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand.

There are many religious and extremist groups operating freely and giving propaganda speeches at open rallies in Indonesia. These groups include Front Thoriqotul Jihad, Laskar Mujahidin, Hezbollah Sunan Bonang and Brigade FPIS. Currently, there are no laws to curtail the rise of these groups. Indonesian President Joko Widodo has announced the possible enactment of laws to address the rising threat.

The key to counter religious radicalisation and extremism is the ideological elements of these groups, which have been overlooked for years. The region does not have the expertise or capability to counter the ideological content of the threats as many within the region do not speak, read or write Arabic. It is clear that these religious groups are calling for a “clash of civilisations”, which we all need to be mature about and address the threat rather than sweeping it under the carpet and claiming otherwise.

Many religious terrorist groups use verses and chapters of the Quran and other religious texts to streamline their ideological goals and interpretations. The first IS video launched in 2014 introduces Chapter 9 verse 32 of the Quran in the opening of segment 1. “They want to extinguish the light of Allah with their mouths, but Allah refuses except to perfect His light, although the disbelievers dislike it.” This is a very important opening for IS as it captures the very insight of Islam against disbelievers. However, many are not aware of the narratives being used by religious terrorist groups to radicalise the masses.

Although, a great deal of the fight against religious terrorism is focused on international terrorist groups, it should not be overlooked that many attacks are perpetrated by terrorists within the borders of Southeast Asia and a greater emphasis on local initiatives can thwart terrorism at its earliest stages.

The initial threat posed by returning foreign fighters is a small percentile of the expertise and capabilities that they will bring into the region.

Community Policing and Terrorism, an article written by Matthew Schneider and Robert Chapman said that “community policing can be defined as a philosophy that, through the delivery of police services, focuses on crime and social disorder, the philosophy includes aspects of traditional law enforcement as well as prevention, problem solving tactics, and partnerships. As a fundamental shift from traditional, reactive policing, community policing stresses the prevention of crime”.

The increasing role of local law enforcement agencies in deterring terrorism at the local level only reinforces the importance of community policing. As with crime it is paramount to prevent terrorism in its infancy. As such, community policing should also engage with local non-government organisations and other organisations that can assist in countering the threat of terrorism within the community.

The public can benefit from outreach and public awareness programmes. Asean governments should encourage the private and public sectors to come up with these programmes supported by organisations that have the expertise to counter the threat of terrorism.

The final step needed in countering terrorism at the local level is the sharing of intelligence within agencies and establishing a joint task force to share in the effort to curtail the threat.

The current objective of Southeast Asian governments is to evaluate the evolving terrorist threat in the region and to understand how global political and religious issues are transforming traditional localised conflicts in many parts of the region. What are the short, medium and long-term threats posed by these groups, what factors affect these groups, what factors affect Muslim attitudes towards these groups and how do we win this war?

Terrorism is increasingly becoming homegrown. Many of the local off-shoot groups have little or no formal affiliation with IS and al-Qaeda, but are simply hybrids or franchises that are self-radicalised and many are often self-financed. As these groups are off-shoots of IS and al-Qaeda, they pose a serious threat. Their apocalyptic agendas are similar to those of IS, al-Qaeda and JI.

Andrin Raj is the Southeast Asia regional director for the International Association for Counterterrorism and Security Professionals-Centre for Security Studies and a National Security and Counter Terrorism expert. He can be reached via andrin.raj@iacspsea.com

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