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Monday, March 27, 2017, 18:07 (GMT+7)
Terrorism in Southeast Asia

Over the past years, international terrorism has been on the rise not only in North Africa, Middle East, Europe, but also all over the world, with complicated and unpredictable forms. Recent terrorist attacks in Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines have indicated a security threat  to the Southeast Asia.

“New battlefield” of terrorism

When international coalitions led by the U.S. and Russia stepped up attacks on terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria, first and foremost the Self-Proclaimed Islamic State (IS), these organizations suffered heavy losses and began to look for a new haven. Southeast Asia has been opted and believed to be an ideal region to show off their image and strength. According to the Report released by the International Criminal Police Organization, in 2015, there are 5 main terrorist groups in Southeast Asia, namely Jemaah Islamiyah, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Kumpulan Mujahidin Army (Malaysia), Abu Sayyaf and the New People’s Army (the Philippines). The most dangerous and notorious one is the Jemmah Islamiyah. Its goal is to establish an Islamic State in Southeast Asia by unifying Islamic organizations in Indonesia, Malaysia, Southern part of the Philippines, Singapore and Brunei.

Jakarta terrorist attack on January 14th 2016 (photo: AFP/VNA)

A number of Islamic terrorist groups in Southeast Asia now tend to readily join IS and accept its members from the Middle East, facilitating its access to this region. According to Malaysia Newspaper “The Star”, around 300 followers of Abu Bakar Bashir, former leader of the Jemmah Islamiyah and instigator of the 2002 Bali bombing, have been freed and come to reside in several Indonesian islands, such as Batam island, with a view to establishing new bases for IS. Together with the advantage of propaganda throughout social networks, social and economic instabilities have been the reason for malcontents’ readness to join terrorist organizations. Observers believe this is the main reason for the Southeast Asia to be selected as IS new haven when its fronts in Middle East - North Africa are restricted and turn to be adverse.

Necessity for cooperation to counter terrorism in the region

According to the Lowy Institute for International Policy located in Australia, the terrorist threat in Southeast Asia is existing, not only at regional level but also at global level. Thus, to deal with this threat, more than ever, regional countries must strengthen cooperation, not only with one another but also with other ones worldwide. In 2016, there were two counter-terrorism conferences co-occurring in Indonesia. One was the Counter-Terrorism Conference in Bali, with the participation of 20 ministers of Southeast Asian and Oceania countries; the other was the 2016 World Islamic Economic Forum held in Jakarta with the participation of 4,200 representatives from 73 countries. The two conferences took place when the threat of terrorism became increasingly evident in the region.

In the Counter-Terrorism Conference, Head of Coordinating Ministry for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs of the host country Wiranto warned about the increase of terrorist attacks with the appearance of IS groups and other terrorist organizations. Southeast Asia and Oceania are now seen as “a fertile land” of terrorists. It is estimated that there have been about 1,000 militants from the two regions joining IS and fighting in Syria and Iraq. When back to Southeast Asia, they have recruited new militants, which has intensified regional instability.

Representatives of the Conference pledged closer cooperation among countries in various fields, such as cyber technology and cross-border financing. The Conference also stressed limitations and disunity in the fight against terrorism. In this regard, incomplete cross-border cooperation among Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines could make these countries face a high risk of terrorist attack or become a haven for terrorist organizations. However, there are different reasons for the lack of cooperation among countries, such as the issue of sovereignty, border gaps and lack of an agreement on what to do. Moreover, weaknesses in border patrol and control could be a matter of concern to countries, particularly Indonesia, among the countries having the longest coastline in the world, providing ideal shelter for terrorists. Several extremists from international terrorist organizations are trying to come to Indonesia and a number of Southeast Asian countries. Therefore, in the fight against terrorism, it is necessary to promote close cooperation among state governments. It is believed that there is no miraculous measure to fight terrorism except for cooperation among regional countries and international community.

Measures to counter terrorism

Since terrorist attacks are at national, transnational and even global level, Southeast Asian countries should deepen cooperation at both regional and global level with various measures in the following fields:

 First, strengthening cooperation among intelligence agencies of the countries within and outside the region to share information on terrorist activities. This is the most important measure. Without shared intelligence information, it is impossible to map out appropriate measures to deal with terrorism.

Second, apart from their own plans and measures, Southeast Asian countries should draw up a joint strategy to handle terrorism.

Third, controlling terrorist organizations’ financing. In the past, Australian banks used to be exploited to finance terrorists abroad. According to statistics, within only 2 years (2014 and 2015), approximately $1million was allocated to Southeast Asia to fund regional terrorist organizations by foreign banks.

Fourth, countries should continue to maintain the principles: “no one stands above the law” and “no refusal of right to protection”. When designing counter-terrorism law, countries must respect international law. The fight against terrorism should be in accordance with protecting international law and implementing the UN programs and Millennium Development Goals, such as hunger eradication, poverty reduction, universal primary education, epidemic prevention.

Ngo Quyen

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