Despite al-Baghdadi’s death, the Islamic State remains a major threat in Southeast Asia
The leader of the Islamic State died three days ago in a US military operation. Southeast Asia has more than a hundred Jihadi networks loyal to the Islamic State group. in the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia, security forces are ready to respond to reprisals.
Jakarta (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The countries of Southeast Asia fighting the influence of the Islamic State (IS) group have hailed the killing of IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. At the same time, their security forces are preparing for a long fight against the Jihadi group’s ideology.
The Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia – home to some of the most organised Islamist militant groups in Asia – yesterday said that they were bracing themselves for reprisals by groups loyal to IS as well as so-called lone wolves, individuals radicalised by the group's powerful online propaganda.
Southeast Asia has been a target for Islamic terrorism for a long time. More than 100 Jihadi networks loyal to al-Baghdadi are believed to exist in the region.
The self-proclaimed caliph was a central figure in international terrorism, capable of attracting tens of thousands of extremists from different parts of the world.
According to analysts, his death will further fragment IS, which is in relative decline in the Middle East, and push the "provinces" to reorganise themselves.
The authorities in the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia are concerned that local supporters along with escapees from Iraq and Syria will be able to seek refuge in remote villages, taking advantage of porous borders, lawlessness and plenty of weapons.
The Philippines is the only country in Southeast Asia where cells and groups loyal to IS have been able to physically control territory and gain military experience.
Several extremist groups based in the island of Mindanao (southern Philippines) have been operating on behalf of IS since 2014.
The Maute group, named after the family that founded it, seized parts of the city of Marawi in May 2017. This caused the death of more a thousand people and introduced the country to the ideology of the Islamic State group.
Filipino Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana yesterday said that despite the death of its chief, IS remains capable and dangerous. “This is a blow to the organisation considering al-Baghdadi's stature as a leader. But this is just a momentary setback considering the depth and reach of the organisation worldwide,” Lorenzana said. “Somebody will take his place.”
Indonesia, the world’s most populous Islamic country, is also facing a growing Islamist militancy. Indonesian authorities believe that thousands of Indonesians have been inspired by IS and estimate that around 500 joined the group in Syria.
After al-Baghdadi's death was announced, Indonesian intelligence stated that it would adopt a wait-and-see approach and continue to carefully monitor the domestic situation.
Senior Commander Asep Adi Saputra, head of the information services of the National Police (Polri), stated that the anti-terror squad, Densus 88, will take extra precautions.
For Indonesia’s National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) chief Suhardi Alius, “We have to be careful since (the news) will also have an impact. It is all a global issue at this point. Events that transpired in the Middle East can have an impact on our domestic situation.”
In Malaysia, security services are equally on high alert. Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, Deputy Commissioner of the Royal Malaysian Police’s Special Branch counterterrorism division, believes that IS will be even more determined to get an operational foothold in Southeast Asia.
“We have detected IS’s plan to set up a new caliphate in the region since the fall of their stronghold in Raqqa, Syria, in 2017,” Ayob said.
For the latter, lone wolves and self-radicalised militants are the main threats to the country. “As long as the Isis ideology is not eliminated, as long as other groups who adhere to the Salafi jihadi ideology are not eliminated, the threat of terror will remain,” he lamented.