New countermeasures required to address extremists in South and Southeast Asia, report says
When it comes to counterterrorism, the lines between South and Southeast Asia are becoming blurred, according to a May 2017 report form the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC).
As a result, governments, journalists and nongovernmental organizations should strive to “better understand the interaction and look for interventions that can strengthen local resistance to recruitment,” according to the IPAC report, titled “How Southeast Asian and Bangladeshi Extremism Intersect.”
“Links between Bangladeshi and Southeast Asian extremists appear to be growing, fueled by ISIS [Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] and increasing population movements in the region,” the report said. “It may be time to think about a broader geographical unit, at least as far as counter-terrorism programming is concerned.”
The IPAC report documented various ways extremists in the region are coming together. Among the new phenomena, the report found that: radicalized Bangladeshi migrant workers in Singapore and Malaysia are forming cells to plan attacks at home; Bangladeshi students in Malaysia are forming partnerships with pro-ISIS groups in Bangladesh; Bangladeshi and Southeast Asian ISIS fighters are meeting in Syria; pro-ISIS Malaysian and Filipinos are recruiting Bangladeshis to fight in the southern Philippines; and Indonesians and Malaysians are seeking to assist persecuted Muslims in Burma through contacts with Bangladesh-based Rohingya.
“All these links are being forged at a time when population movements between Bangladesh and Southeast Asia have never been better,” said Sidney Jones, author of the report and IPAC director.
The report examined historical links between extremists of the two regions going back to the Darul Islam/Jemaah Islamiyah training camp on the Pakistan-Afghan border in the late 1980s. For example, the attack in July 2016 at an upscale Dhaka bakery revealed that several of the attackers and many others in their cell had studied or were currently enrolled at universities in Malaysia. (Pictured: Bangladesh Special Weapons and Tactics police officers keep watch from a rooftop after a raid against Islamic extremists in Gazipur, Bangladesh, in October 2016). Arrests in Malaysia in January and February 2017 of Bangladeshi fugitives hoping to get to Mindanao and Malaysians and Filipinos helping them in Sabah suggests a deeper web of interaction.
Although exchanges between Southeast Asians and Bangladeshis are already occurring to share information about fighting extremism, such programs could be intensified, the report said. For example, Bangladeshis participate in programs at the Jakarta Center for Law Enforcement Cooperation.
“Law enforcement agencies in Bangladesh and Southeast Asia could usefully develop more expertise on each other’s extremist networks and strengthen information sharing,” Jones said. The Indonesian National Anti-Terrorism Agency could create an office to focus on cross-border interaction among extremists to include Bangladesh, Burma and the Philippines, the report recommended.
Government training programs for overseas workers and civil society organizations could develop a module to strengthen resistance to radicalization in their host countries and share best practices across Bangladesh, Indonesia and the Philippines, the report said.
Cooperation needs to extend beyond the government, the report said. For example, “It would also be good to have more exchanges among top journalists, in the interests of getting more informed reporting and better analysis from nongovernmental sources,” Jones said.
“There is no shortage of possible programming ideas, but everything starts from a recognition that Bangladesh and Southeast Asia have common problems that can be addressed jointly.”