South­east Asia a ‘blind spot’ for ter­ror­ist re­cruits

In­done­sia found to be smug­gler stop on route to Is­lamic State

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY ROWAN SCAR­BOR­OUGH

The Is­lamic State’s ter­ror­ist army is broad­en­ing its global reach to find re­cruits will­ing to come to its Syria-Iraq “caliphate” and wreak havoc.

An Army think tank re­port states that South­east Asia, and es­pe­cially In­done­sia, is a rou­tine stop for hun­dreds of smug­gled ter­ror­ists. They travel a pre­scribed route to im­prove the chances of making it to the Syr­ian city of Raqqa, the Is­lamic State’s pro­claimed cap­i­tal.

Much is writ­ten on the ter­ror­ist group’s at­trac­tive­ness to Mus­lims liv­ing in Europe, es­pe­cially France, which suf­fered its sec­ond mas­sacre this year at the hands of the Is­lamic State, also known as ISIL and ISIS.

In­done­sia, with the world’s largest Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion at more than 205 mil­lion, is less no­ticed but fer­tile ter­ri­tory. One team of re­searchers in Lon­don has called South­east Asia a “blind spot” for count­ing Is­lamic State re­cruits.

The Army’s For­eign Mil­i­tary Stud­ies Of­fice at Fort Leav­en­worth, Kansas, re­ported this month that In­done­sia is both a source of do­mes­tic re­cruits and for­eign fight­ers who ar­rive on their way to Syria.

Press re­ports last year put the num­ber of In­done­sians go­ing to fight in Syria at 50, with most pre­sumed to be on the side of Is­lamic ex­trem­ists such as the Is­lamic State.

The For­eign Mil­i­tary Stud­ies Of­fice puts the num­ber now at about 500. Jakarta faces the same prob­lem as Europe and pos­si­bly the U.S.: Fight­ers honed by the Is­lamic State in Syria will re­turn to their home coun­try to com­mit ter­ror­ism.

“At least 300-500 In­done­sians have been in Syria train­ing for bat­tle, and there has been at least one case of a mall bomb­ing in Jakarta that has ISIS trade­marks as­so­ci­ated with it,” said the mil­i­tary stud­ies re­port. “Thus, the direct link is very clear that Is­lamic State’s pres­ence in In­done­sia is grow­ing.”

“In­done­sians ar­riv­ing from fight­ing for ISIS abroad present a sig­nif­i­cant prob­lem for do­mes­tic ter­ror­ism. Sim­i­lar to for­eign­ers fight­ing in Afghanistan, they have re­ceived req­ui­site train­ing to con­duct do­mes­tic ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­i­ties when they re­turn home,” the re­port added.

The 500 is a small per­cent­age of the Is­lamic State’s es­ti­mated strength of 30,000. But the ter­ror­ist group’s re­lent­less so­cial me­dia broad­casts, as well as in­stant mes­sag­ing on en­crypted apps, have proved suc­cess­ful in in­creas­ing its stream of in­ductees.

The For­eign Mil­i­tary Stud­ies Of­fice re­port quotes Saud Us­man Na­su­tion, who heads In­done­sia’s coun­tert­er­ror­ism agency, as say­ing that nearby Malaysia is a col­lec­tion point for ter­ror­ism re­cruits and may now be home to “thou­sands.”

Mr. Na­su­tion told Malaysia’s English­language The Star On­line that the Is­lamic State is work­ing with smug­gling net­works to bring for­eign fight­ers to In­done­sia.

“So we need to stay vig­i­lant, more so be­cause there is in­for­ma­tion that in Malaysia, there are thou­sands, a lot of for­eign ter­ror­ist fight­ers there who are about to be de­ployed — we don’t know where to — un­der the net­work,” he said.

Mr. Na­su­tion said 76 In­done­sians have re­turned from Syria and 52 died there, four of whom acted as sui­cide bombers.

The House Home­land Se­cu­rity Com­mit­tee es­ti­mates that the Is­lamic State com­mands up to 30,000 fight­ers. About 250 Amer­i­cans have left the U.S. to join the ter­ror­ist group.

There does not ap­pear to be firm num­bers on the Salafist Sunni mil­i­tant group’s eth­nic makeup.

But the Depart­ment of War Stud­ies at King’s Col­lege in Lon­don stud­ied the flow of ter­ror­ists, and puts the num­ber of for­eign fight­ers com­ing to Syria-Iraq at more than 20,000.

The depart­ment’s In­ter­na­tional Cen­ter for the Study of Rad­i­cal­iza­tion and Po­lit­i­cal Violence says the re­cruits come from 50 coun­tries. South­east Asia, which in­cludes In­done­sia and Malaysia, is a “blind spot” — mean­ing the flow is dif­fi­cult to cal­i­brate, the cen­ter said in its most re­cent re­port writ­ten by di­rec­tor Peter R. Neu­mann.

Out­side the Mid­dle East, the largest in­flux of 4,000 re­cruits comes from Western Europe, a count dou­ble the cen­ter’s 2013 es­ti­mate. Saudi Ara­bia, a Sunni Mus­lim state, has up to 2,500 cit­i­zens fight­ing for the Is­lamic State.

France, which saw 130 in­no­cents killed by Is­lamic State at­tack­ers Nov. 13, has pro­vided the most, at 1,200. Bri­tain and Ger­many — about 600 each.

“As with pre­vi­ous es­ti­mates, it should be stressed that count­ing for­eign fight­ers is no ex­act science,” Mr. Neu­mann said.

“So we need to stay vig­i­lant, more so be­cause there is in­for­ma­tion that in Malaysia, there are thou­sands, a lot of for­eign ter­ror­ist fight­ers there who are about to be de­ployed — we don’t know where to — un­der the net­work.”

— Saud Us­man Na­su­tion, In­done­sia’s coun­tert­er­ror­ism agency

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Is­lamic State mil­i­tants hone ter­ror­ism skills of for­eign fight­ers, who bring their train­ing back home, a mil­i­tary stud­ies re­port says. Not­ing a mall bomb­ing in Jakarta, it said “the direct link is very clear that Is­lamic State’s pres­ence in In­done­sia is grow­ing.”

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