Study: SE Asia faces rising threat from IS groups

isis-SeJAKARTA: Southeast Asia faces a growing risk of extremist violence as Islamic State group supporters increasingly work together, but law enforcement agencies are unprepared for the new threat, a report warned Tuesday.

The main danger lies in the strife-torn southern Philippines, where a handful of Islamic extremist groups have sworn allegiance to IS, according to the report from think-tank the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC).

The groups have links to other parts of the region, particularly Indonesia and Malaysia, and IS has endorsed a Philippines-based militant as “amir”, or leader, for Southeast Asia, the report said.

“ISIS has deepened cooperation among extremist groups in Southeast Asia,” said the report, using another name for IS, adding the trend had widened the “extremist recruitment pool” and opened new channels for international funding and communication.

“More deadly violence in the Philippines involving alliances of pro-ISIS groups is a matter of when, not if. It may also increase the possibility of cross-border extremist operations.”

However it noted that “most law enforcement agencies retain a strongly national orientation, without in-house expertise on groups outside their own borders”.

While IS is rapidly losing territory in Iraq and Syria, the effect may be to increase the risk of revenge attacks in Southeast Asia, said the report by Jakarta-based IPAC, headed by terrorism analyst Sidney Jones.

The warning came as the United States ambassador to Manila, Philip Goldberg, said Tuesday that America wants to remain involved in the campaign to quell Islamic militancy in the southern Philippines, after President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to kick out US forces.

Parts of Southeast Asia have long struggled with Islamic militancy and hundreds of radicals from the region have flocked to join IS.

Southeast Asians fighting for the jihadists have formed their own unit in the Middle East, called Katibah Nusantara, and are believed to be in regular contact with militants back home.

The region suffered its first IS attack in January when extremists launched a deadly suicide bombing and gun assault in Jakarta.

The IPAC report examined four pro-IS groups in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao and their links to neighbouring countries.

It said the Maute group, which is accused of carrying out a bombing in Duterte’s southern home town of Davao in September that killed 15 people, had the “smartest, best-educated and most sophisticated members”.