New Terrorism Threats Emerging in Asia-Pacific

By Allyson Versprille

The advancement of Islamic terrorism to the Indo-Asia-Pacific region will threaten the security of Australia and its neighbors in the coming year, according to Australia’s former minister for defence. 

“The spread of Islamic terrorism to the Indo-Pacific remains the most significant immediate threat to regional security,” said Kevin Andrews, a current member of the Australian parliament. He served as the minister for defence from December 2014 to September 2015.

Recent events indicate that violent extremist ideals are expanding throughout the region. In January, a busy commercial area in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta was racked with gunfire and suicide bombings, killing eight people — four assailants and four civilians. The Islamic State, also known as ISIL or ISIS, claimed responsibility for the assault. 

In the coming year, these threats will coincide with other incidents that could aggravate the situation for countries in the Asia-Pacific region, Andrews noted during a discussion at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington, D.C. think tank.

The release of several Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) adherents from Indonesian jails this year could stoke the flames of violent extremism, he said. JI is an Indonesia-based clandestine terrorist network that aims to establish an Islamic state encompassing southern Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei and the southern Philippines, according to the national counterterrorism center under the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence. JI operatives began conducting attacks in 1999.

In an essay titled, “From Prison to Carnage in Jakarta: A Tale of Two Terrorist Convicts, Their Mentor Behind Bars and the Fighter with ISIS,” published in January by the Brookings Institution, authors Susan Sim and Noor Huda Ismail describe the state of Indonesian jails and their ineffectiveness in reforming radical jihadists.

“Our interviews reveal that for Indonesian jihadists, a spell in prison, rather than being an intervention stage, is seen as a way station to further glory,” they said. “Many leave prison not only unreformed, but also more influential in local jihadi circles.”

The second incident that will occur simultaneously is the return of foreign fighters from the Middle East to the region, which could bolster support for ISIL, Andrews said.

In the Southern Philippines declarations of allegiance to the Islamic State and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi by jihadist groups like Ansar al-Khilafah, also augment the threat environment, he noted. According to the Long War Journal, a website that tracks military and terrorism-related issues, ISIL has recognized such pledges of allegiance from several groups, and in December fighters alleging to be affiliated with the terrorist organization released a video showing a training camp in the Philippines.

“The confluence of [these occurrences] … points to what Prime Minister Lee [Hsien Loong] of Singapore identified last year as an emerging hazard,” Andrews said. As these factors begin to converge, the most important objective remains defeating Islamic extremism at its source in the Middle East, he added.

Australia has contributed the second largest military presence, after the United States, to the coalition in Iraq, Andrews noted. Its forces are “operating airstrikes, refueling and command-and-control activities in the air, as well as training of Iraqi forces.” The U.S. ally currently has about 900 personnel stationed in the Middle East; a rotation of six Super Hornets and Hornets flying daily missions over Iraq and Syria; a Wedgetail command-and-control aircraft; a refueler; and two land force components — both special operations forces and regular forces, Andrews said.

He lauded the United States’ decision in December to alter its strategy and use its own special ops forces in a more deliberate way.

“One of the challenges that we’ve had — that we noticed over the last year or so — is that about two-thirds to three-quarters of our air missions come back without having deployed a weapon,” he said. “That’s because of the targeting challenges that we face in that area.”

Having special operations units on the ground will enable the coalition to better target aerial strikes, he noted.

Photo: Wiki Commons

Topics: Homeland Security, International

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