Confront Abu Sayyaf, IS as unified force, Asean told

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KUALA LUMPUR: Asean should confront terror groups Abu Sayyaf and Islamic State (IS) as a unified force because these groups have become a common threat to the region, said an expert on terrorism.

Associate Professor Aruna Gopinath, the desk officer on Southeast Asian Studies at the Centre for Defence and International Security Studies at the National Defence University, said there was a need for the regional grouping to unanimously decide on action to be taken against these militant groups, especially Abu Sayyaf which has been recognised by IS as “a caliphate in the region”.

Asean must decide whether there was a need for a military offensive against the Philippine terrorist group, she told Bernama.

“We believe in the Asean non-interference policy but this is a common threat now as Abu Sayyaf is not just attacking Malaysia. It’s going everywhere from Thailand to Singapore, and we don’t know what their next move is,” she said.

Touching on the non-interference policy, Aruna said negotiations could only take place when “you are able to talk to somebody, but when diplomacy fails, the ultimatum is war”.

“I believe that if these people (Abu Sayyaf) are not cooperating, we should go on the military offensive,” she said in commenting on the recent increase in the spate of abductions by the group.

In July last year, Abu Sayyaf senior leader Isnilon Hapilon was seen on social media taking an oath of allegiance to IS.

The IS has also declared the Philippines as a caliphate in a video released last June in a move seen as an attempt by the group to recruit more fighters from neighbouring countries in the region.

Abu Sayyaf came into the picture after they split up with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which was then led by Hashim Salamat, following the MILF’s acceptance of autonomy for the Bangsamoro.

“The group (Abu Sayyaf) tentatively came to power in 1991 led by Abdul Razak Janjalani. They said they were going to carry out the separatism ideology in a very aggressive manner,” said Aruna, whose research has focused on the conflict in Mindanao.

She said the militant group then started killing a lot of non-Muslims, especially Christians, and insisted on separatism and “thought they could get separated faster through killing, but the government never gave in”.

Abu Sayyaf, which was reported to have started with about 100 followers, today has more than 400 members.

Meanwhile, a political analyst at the International Islamic University Malaysia, Dr Maszlee Malik, said the Abu Sayyaf/IS matter had gone beyond the security issue.

“We are in a state of a war of civilisation and propaganda, a war of values and cultures. So, when such a thing happens, we must stand together as one and fight this unwanted barbaric trend that’s coming to our soil.

“It should be a collective effort among civil society, people of conscience fighting this extremism and terrorism because with IS recognition of Abu Sayyaf, the militant group is now trying to export its sentiments (to this region),” he said.

Maszlee said IS had at least 6,000 channels in the social media, including Twitter, Telegram, WhatsApp and YouTube, and in various languages to promote its propaganda and beliefs.

“The IS issue must be viewed in a bigger picture. Failure to do so, could result in a very wrong conclusion.

“If we look at the discourse or narrative that is being used by IS and the way it recruits members, it is all on injustice towards Muslims, regardless of where it happens,” he said.

Maszlee said this propaganda would definitely tempt Muslims to subscribe to its fight, “but what it fails to understand is that if the group goes deeper, it will cause more trouble to Muslims all over the world.

“You cannot eliminate one wrong with another. So for simple logic, simple thinking, people cannot understand the underlying facts beneath the propaganda. They (IS) are using simplistic propaganda to attract the younger generation, the youths,” he added.