Islamic State 'now planning terror attacks on Asian soil'
Counter-terrorism officials in Malaysia and Indonesia say citizens who have joined the terror group are planning attacks on home soil
Amy Chew in Kuala Lumpur
Malaysia and Indonesia are warning of a fresh terror threat from Islamist militants who have joined the al-Qaeda offshoot that has seized territory in Iraq and Syria.
The appeal of Islamic State, whose gains in Iraq and brutality towards minorities have prompted air strikes from the US, has spread to Southeast Asia, where radicalised Muslims have been inspired by the group’s declaration of an Islamic caliphate.
In Malaysia and Indonesia, followers of Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, wanted their governments toppled because the countries’ constitutions were secular and not based on sharia law, warn counter terrorism officials from both countries.
The involvement of Malaysians and Indonesians in the Iraqi and Syrian conflicts had increased the terrorist threat in Southeast Asia, according to analysts and regional police.
Malaysia has arrested at least 19 suspects for links to the terror group in the past seven months.
“During questioning, they [the suspects] admitted one of their main objectives was to attack the government,” Ayub Khan, a senior official for Malaysia’s Special Branch Counter-Terrorism Division, said. “They also discussed planning attacks against a disco, pubs in Kuala Lumpur and a Carlsberg factory in Petaling Jaya.” Petaling Jaya is a suburb outside Kuala Lumpur.
Some 20 Malaysians are known to have gone to Syria to fight with Islamic State. “We believe their real numbers are more than that,” Ayub said.
At least one Malaysian, 26-year-old factory worker Ahmad Tarmimi Maliki, died as a suicide bomber in Iraq in May.
Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, last week banned support for Islamic State and warned its citizens not to join the group.
National police chief Ronny Sompie said the Indonesian counter-terrorism taskforce, Den88, arrested a man named Afif Abdul Majid on Saturday for allegedly declaring support for the group and for funding a terror training camp in Aceh province in 2010.
Abu Bakar Bashir, the jailed leader of the country’s al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah, has expressed support for Islamic State. Jemaah Islamiyah was behind the Bali bombings in 2002 that killed 202 people, including 11 Hong Kong residents.
At least 56 Indonesians have become Islamic State fighters in Syria and Iraq and at least three have died. Those who return would bring back combat skills and global terrorist links, said Indonesian counter-terrorism expert Noor Huda Ismail.
“This is just like veterans from the wars in Afghanistan. Apart from Malaysia and Indonesia, there are also recruits from the Philippines going to Syria,” said Huda, who runs the only private de-radicalisation programme in Indonesia.
Islamic State recruits include experienced militants as well as recently radicalised Muslims, inspired by the group’s rapid advance in the Middle East. “Its appeal lies in its declaration of an Islamic caliphate, which is viewed by some Muslims as the realisation of a prophecy that a new Islamic order will emerge every 100 years,” Huda said.
Islamic State’s core group of fighters learned their skills against the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the US when it occupied Iraq. The group has used raids and ransoms to stockpile weapons and cash.
“[Islamic State] is also far richer and better armed than al-Qaeda from taking over banks and weapons in places it has over-run. It can afford to pay each fighter who joins them US$250 every month,” said Huda.