Disaffected people easy prey for ISIS recruiters

One way to combat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is to attend to the disaffection in the region, said two security experts and a Muslim leader contacted by The Straits Times.

If the unhappiness festers, ISIS will exploit it for recruitment and create divisions in society, they said.

"We do know that foreign jihadists have identified the Rohingya situation in Myanmar as a source of resentment," said Dr Kumar Ramakrishna from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies

The Rohingya people are a displaced Muslim minority group persecuted for their faith and ethnicity in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.

Recently, Indian media reported on the dismantling of a human trafficking racket which had sneaked 500 Rohingya from Bangladesh into Saudi Arabia on fake passports. Some of the men were believed to have joined ISIS.

Dr Rohan Gunaratna, head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, said that already, a small number of Rohingya have trained in Indonesia and southern Thailand, and it was "only a matter of time" before ISIS created a cell among these displaced people.

It has already created a similar presence in southern Thailand, where a Muslim insurgency festers, he said.

"ISIS will move wherever there is disaffection and unhappiness, and exploit the situation," said Dr Gunaratna.

Last year, The Straits Times reported on how ISIS released videos in Malay showing the indoctrination and grooming of children of Katibah Nusantara fighters, encouraging others to join them.

The Katibah Nusantara is a unit of Indonesian and Malaysian fighters in Syria. The group's leader, Bahrun Naim, has been identified as the man behind last Thursday's attacks in Jakarta.

On its Twitter feed last August, ISIS posted a picture of a baby sleeping next to a grenade and rifle with a message in Bahasa exhorting Indonesians to join its so-called jihad, if not in Syria, then where they lived.

But the propaganda is not just a call to violence, it also threatens to drive a wedge into society, said Ustaz Ali Mohamed, co-chairman of the Religious Rehabilitation Group which is made up of Muslim scholars who counsel terror detainees and radicalised individuals in Singapore.

They have launched a helpline for religious counsellors, trained ambassadors to reach out to Muslims, and uploaded videos online to counter distorted teachings.

Ustaz Ali said: "ISIS is a misinterpretation of what is Islam. Islam never condones or practises violence. We need to engage non-Muslims also, and explain to them that these are not teachings of Islam - so people of different faiths feel safe living with Muslims."

Danson Cheong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 20, 2016, with the headline 'Disaffected people easy prey for ISIS recruiters'. Print Edition | Subscribe