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The Straits Times says

No underestimating tentacles of terror

A spate of attacks around the world, some against Muslims during Ramadan, is a wake-up call to galvanise global efforts to resist a form of organised terror hardly seen before. The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has claimed or been blamed for attacks in the United States, Jordan, Yemen, Lebanon, Turkey, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. The terrorist violence went against the spirit of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, revealing how little respect ISIS and its sympathisers have for the cardinal principles of the very faith whose interests they pretend to uphold. Muslim sensitivities were appalled in particular by the suicide attack near the Prophet's Mosque in Medina, Islam's second-holiest site. It showed how far misguided individuals could go in violating the sanctity of places in pursuit of their desperate and demented ends.

At the heart of this scourge lies ISIS, whose shell state is the murderous centrepiece of a global network of members, supporters and sympathisers. Running into tens of thousands, they are scattered through the Middle East, Europe, Africa, South-east Asia and elsewhere. In a telling reversal of its once-swift advance through its home region, ISIS has lost 45 per cent of its territory in Iraq and 20 per cent of it in Syria to an intensifying United States-led coalition campaign. However, these reverses have led it to encourage its followers around the world to target their own countries. Whatever the actual degree of affiliation between the extremist group and those who have answered its call for stepped-up attacks, there is little doubt that its voice is heeded in countries far from the borders of its self-proclaimed caliphate.

This is cause for the utmost concern because ISIS' sophisticated and sustained presence on the Internet gives it a reach that is difficult to monitor consistently, let alone stop. Indeed, its communication networks display a high level of maturity, using encrypted communication that has not been easy to crack yet.

In this region, the threat of ISIS is rapidly becoming a serious one. South-east Asian fighters in Iraq and Syria, who are organised under an ISIS affiliate named Katibah Nusantara, pose a real danger. If they manage to return home, they will arrive with organisational and combat skills that they will employ swiftly. Indeed, they have declared war on the region formally. Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines are in their crosshairs. The southern Philippines, which has been designated the hub of this grand plan for the region, has long suffered from a Muslim insurgency which needs to be tackled with renewed urgency.

South-east Asian nations must coordinate their strategies as ISIS firms up its plans in the region. Apart from strengthening intelligence efforts, they must also harness social media platforms to counter the venom spread by ISIS' tentacles.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 11, 2016, with the headline 'No underestimating tentacles of terror'. Print Edition | Subscribe