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Very real threat of radicalism

Published on Jul 22, 2014 6:32 AM

The anarchy wreaked on Iraq by a self-appointed caliph might appear distant to many in Singapore, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, especially after the crippling of erstwhile terror networks in the region. But it would be unwise to dismiss the possibility of a viral return of jihadist stirrings.

Exuberant support for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) - with radicals from Indonesia, Malaysia and even Singapore heeding the call to arms in the Middle East - provides stark warning that nascent steps by Islamic revivalists to restore the caliphate have greater potential to take hold in highly unstable times.

The recruitment of foreigners, inspired by online propaganda to join the battle in Syria, reflects the cross-border nature of the contagion. And examples of self-radicalisation and "freelance jihadists" suggest that the informal set-up of the ISIS, unlike that of traditional terror networks, makes it much harder to counter through conventional anti-terror strategies. The far-reaching impact of the conflict in Iraq and Syria has prompted global warnings that the ISIS could well surpass Al-Qaeda as the biggest terror threat today.

The real danger lies in battle-hardened radicals returning home with the fanatical desire to replicate the bid to create an Islamic caliphate in the region. Along with a propensity for violence - an ISIS trait - and practical military skills, they could be an engine of greater intolerance at a time of growing religiosity. Such fears are not overblown: Radicals have started an ISIS Indonesian chapter, while regional terror groups have been quick to express support for Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

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