PETALING JAYA: A geopolitical expert in the Philippines has warned that Southeast Asia faces a rise in terrorist activity as foreign militants increasingly take advantage of vulnerable families’ poverty and culture to recruit trainees in the region.
In his column in the Manila Times, Gil H.A. Santos said the terrorists were receiving smuggled arms and financial assistance from foreign sources to intensify operations in this region.
He said a recent international conference on regional security in Singapore, also attended by armed forces and anti-terrorism experts from Asean member nations, had come out with a warning on the matter.
“The extremist terrorists are losing in Syria, Iraq and Iran — and therefore moving their operations centre to the Southeast Asian region,” he said, echoing the warning aired at the 16th Asia Security Summit from June 2 to 4.
“Therefore, expect foreign terrorists to be smuggled into any of the islands or Asean member countries from here on.”
Santos, who is also a journalism and international relations lecturer at the Lyceum of the Philippines University, is also the president of the Centre for Philippine Futuristics Studies and Management.
He said although the Philippine armed forces have asserted that the deadly incursion by Maute terrorists in Marawi City in Mindanao island, that began on May 23 is over, the authorities need to be prepared for more days of violence ahead.
The group had reportedly seen sizeable participation by individuals from neighbouring Malaysia and Indonesia, who joined them in taking arms to set up an Islamist stronghold, with Marawi as the base.
Santos said the protracted nature of the fight with the Maute was shown by the prolonged conflicts with other militia outfits like the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the splinter Moro Independent Liberation Front (MILF), the Abu Sayyaf and the Bangsamoro Independence Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
He added that the international terrorists were capitalising on three factors – poverty, ignorance and religion.
They used these to recruit trainees, who were usually teenage boys of poor Muslim families.
He said some of the recruiters were trainees of the original al-Qaeda of the late Osama bin Laden in the Afghanistan war in 1989-91.
Their typical approach is that they need the teenage Muslim boys to train to become imam, so they must study the Quran under ‘elders or holy men’, he said.
“In exchange, the boys’ families are given monthly cash payments of at least the equivalent of US$500 (RM2,100).
“To the poor Muslim family, this is an attractive offer that they will not refuse
“But the young boys are instead indoctrinated in killing Christians or non-Muslims, even to the point of being human bombers because when they die for Islam and Allah, they go to heaven, where they will be rewarded.”
Santos said the terrorists also took advantage of local culture in the conflict area as parents of the young recruits were willing to harbour their relatives who were involved.
He said the terrorists also shared their ransom money with the communities that served as their haven so they could mingle freely and safely among Muslim society in Mindanao.
“How else to explain why and how the late slain terrorist Marwan was able to operate with his Malaysian aides in Mamasapano for 10 years until he was exposed three years ago?”