Why It Matters

Danger of ISIS targeting South-east Asia

Ramadan is a time when Muslims around the world observe a period of fasting and focus on piety, charity, prayer and the pursuit of peace.

But this year, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), as well as self-proclaimed loyalists of the militant group elsewhere, turned the holy month into one of carnage. Over 300 people from North America to Asia died at the hands of those who kill in the name of ISIS from June 12 to Monday, two days before Ramadan ended. The attacks' timing indicates there is little that is still sacred to these extremists.

Nearer home, eight people were injured in a grenade attack last week at a nightclub in Malaysia, the first successful attack by ISIS in the country. On Tuesday, the eve of Idul Fitri, a policeman in Solo, Indonesia, was wounded when he intercepted an ISIS-linked suicide bomber at a police station.

 

Security analysts are now studying if these were coordinated strikes by ISIS or its supporters. Some experts have warned that the incidents in Malaysia and Indonesia are signs of the group moving into the region as it loses territory in Iraq and Syria to coalition forces over the last two years.

 

As ISIS' grip in the Middle East has been weakened, there is a danger that it will be inclined to strike elsewhere via its global franchises to remain relevant, gain more recruits and justify its raison d'etre ideologically, said expert Bilveer Singh yesterday.

"In short, South-east Asia has to be even more prepared for acts of terrorism conducted in the name of ISIS once it is weakened or defeated in Iraq and Syria," he added. "In fact, South-east Asia's larger war with terrorism would begin once ISIS is defeated in the Middle East."

Indeed, with ISIS on the back foot in the two Arab states, more of its foreign fighters may return home to mount attacks. In May, militants from Katibah Nusantara, a group comprising Malaysians and Indonesians fighting in ISIS territory, declared war on South-east Asia. The recent success of small cells in Malaysia and Indonesia may also spur ISIS to channel more resources to the region's militants.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 08, 2016, with the headline 'Danger of ISIS targeting region'. Print Edition | Subscribe