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Wednesday, June 17, 2020, 07:22 (GMT+7)
Post-Islamic State Era terrorist threats

In 2019, the global war on terror achieved a number of positive results, particularly the annihilation of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) fighters in Syria. Compared with 2014, the rate of terrorist attack has decreased remarkably. However, there remain risks of instability, threatening the world security.

A temporary backstep

The annihilation of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the notorious IS terrorist group, is said to bring about just a temporary backstep to this group and its networks. Similar to the situation of Al-Qaeda in 2011, no sooner had Osama bin Laden died and this notorious terrorist group decreased its scale of operation than several other groups took the chance for rising. According to world security analysts, the later terrorist groups tend to be more brutal and sophisticated. Previously, IS was just a part of Al-Qaeda with its first installation in Iraq. After the decline of Al-Qaeda, taking use of the chaos and conflicts in the Middle East, IS soon occupied a vast area of land stretching from Iraq to Syria and planned to establish a Caliphate. Though being founded later, IS’ economic potentials surpasses that of Al-Qaeda. According to statistics, this group used to earn USD 01 million each day from ransoms, crude oil trading and smuggling. Besides, IS has established its own propaganda system which is more well-organised than any other extreme groups in the world. The propagation it made about its atrocity, massacre, and decapitation made even more notorious and dominant than other groups. Its brutality surprised even the Al-Qaeda leaders. With its sizable structure, IS’ leadership is said to be abundant. This was evidenced by the fact that after the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, IS immediately designated his close subordinate, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Quaraishil, as its new leader. Famous for his brutal policies, Abu Ibrahim is much likely to conduct more brutal revenge attacks for his predecessor.

According to the evaluation of Michael Nagata, the former commander of US Special Operations forces in the Middle East, IS will not collapse after the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. With its depth and width, its young generation with their hard lines and combat experience will gradually take over the older one in its global network. Therefore, though losing its installation in Iraq and Syria, IS remnants still hide in the huge deserts and wait for their time. Instead of territorial occupation like before, IS will return to the traditional terrorist operations, such as: ambushing, bombing, assassination, etc. Chaos in Yemen and Afghanistan, civil war in Syria, and the U.S withdrawal of troop out of North Syria will give favourable conditions for the revival of IS and other groups. For their survival and growth, they will not only be active in the old areas, but also divide themselves into smaller ones and widen their areas of operation to Central Asia, South Asia and West Africa, etc.

IS dream of a “Southeast Asian State”

According to statistics of the UN, among 41,000 people coming to Syria and Iraq to join IS, as many as 1,000 are from Southeast Asian countries. After Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed, Southeast Asian countries are facing a threat that these fighters will return and revive the network in the region. To make the matter worse, threat to South East Asia also comes from the extremists who remain in the region but still want to be recognised as IS members. Evidences show that the extremists are encouraged to carry out attacks in their places if they are unable to come to the Middle East. Some studies also point out that be it the Middle East, Africa, South Asia or Southeast Asia, IS employs only one tactic aiming at the discontented local extremists and the extremist beliefs of Muslim. In addition, their huge economic and financial potentials and the loose control of borders among the Southeast Asian countries also make it easy for the terrorists to exchange experience and support each other. In other words, the extremists in Southeast Asia don’t have to depend on the instructions and plans of IS leaders. Instead, they are able to operate independently which makes it difficult for the regional governments to monitor.

In reality, IS searching for new areas of operation had been started before their fall in the Middle East. Upon their inception, their goal is to widen the network to all over the world, including Southeast Asian region. This is a real concern as Southeast Asia is home to the largest Muslim population. Security specialists hold that, for long, East Asia and Southeast Asia have become a convergent point of the extremists. The pro-IS armed groups, such as: Jemaah Islamiah, Jemaah Anshar Khalifah or Abu Sayyaf make IS consider Southeast Asia an attractive place. Even Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, and Southern Thailand are planned into the so called “Southeast Asian State” by the IS. Indonesia, the country with the most Muslim followers, was planned to establish a caliphate by the IS with the activeness of Jemaah Islamiah. Besides staying loyal to IS, this group also follows IS way of fund raising from various sources, such as: doing business, using social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp for propagation, seeking online income, calling for and accepting donation, etc. Not only changing the ways of fund raising, they have also adjusted their expenditure, too. Accordingly, they not only use their money for their attacks but also for providing economic, medical, educational supports, etc. for the families of their arrested members. This increases their loyalty of the members and attracts new holy fighters.

New threats

It can’t be denied that the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has dealt IS a fatal blow. However, this is also the motivation for IS to adjust their methods of operation to adapt to new challenges. Besides searching for new areas of operations, it has also changed its ways of recruitment, ways and means of conducting the attacks. While the attacks with guns, knives, transport vehicles and hot weapons are still carried out effectively, they have also begun to deploy low altitude missiles, tanks and amoured vehicles, or even drones for their attacks. Previous primary targets of attacks, e.g. airports, metro stations, now have been changed to crowds, such as: carnivals, cultural and artistic events which are prone to large casualties. Recently, German security forces have arrested four suspected member of IS who were planning for a massacre with a bomb attack. This group was said to have link with and receive order from IS leaders in Afghanistan and Syria. Within the past two months, a number of other similar arrests have been seen in other countries, such as: Poland, Russia, Indonesia, Egypt, etc.

More seriously, IS extremist ideology is still widely spread and influential. Thanks to the boom of technologies and social networks, terrorist groups can now easily reach Islamic extremists anywhere in the world. 10 years ago, Islamic fighters used to join the forums secretly, now they communicate publicly on the Internet. According to Romain Caillet, a researcher at the French Institute for the Near East, at present, terrorist groups have invested much in the easily – accessed and crowded forums, especially in Western countries. Their goal is to terrify the public, employ new members and provide information for the supporters. This is not a new phenomenon but with the advent of social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. their ideology is being spread with an unprecedented rate. In other words, thanks to the Internet, terrorist groups have enjoyed very effective ways of communications.

Another concern is that besides using the Internet to spread their “declaration”, terrorist groups and the lonely fighters also leverage social networks to broadcast their actions, which exaggerates the casualty and people’s terror, undermines people’s trust in the governments and inspires other fighters. More dangerously, when being blocked on normal platforms, they can quickly change to other ones, such as: justpaste.it, senvid.com, or archieve.org which is a major challenge to many countries. The problem is, even the Internet service providers can’t control all of these risky behaviours. Another challenge comes from the threat of biological weapon when the genetic codes of almost all types of virus are abundant on the Internet and the terrorists can make use of the medical achievements to develop more dangerous viruses. Scientists once warned us that the genetic modification process can make the viruses more dangerous as they become resistant to the existing medicines, hence patients are no way to be cured. This is a new threat requiring that international organisations, countries, particularly those with highly developed medical systems, soon study effective preventive measures.

The world can hardly enjoy a peaceful future as the extreme ideology of the terrorist groups hasn’t been eliminated. The urgent task for countries, mainly the major powers, is to cooperate in the war on terror.

QUYNH DUONG

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