Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

About 20 Indonesian domestic workers on Hong Kong police watch list over Islamic State links

Top diplomat in city tells Post stopping Indonesians from being radicalised is an ‘everyday priority’

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 August, 2017, 4:36pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 August, 2017, 11:29pm

Hong Kong police are monitoring about 20 Indonesian domestic workers in the city out of a list of 43 that a think tank said were linked to terror group Islamic State, the Post has learned.

The rest left Hong Kong earlier, a source with knowledge of the police probe said. Indonesia’s top diplomat in the city, Tri Tharyat, said separately that his consulate had intensified efforts to stop Indonesians from becoming radicalised in the city.

The source said about 20 of the 43 had already left Hong Kong.

The police contacted most of those still in the city for interviews, the source added, and found they were IS sympathisers with no direct connection to the group. They supported certain IS religious ideologies, but had shown no violent intent.

“Even though they were only sympathisers, the police will still be keeping an eye on them,” the source said.

The workers’ placement on a watch list came as the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict released a report saying there were at least 50 female workers in East Asia who took part in extremist discussion groups – with 43 of them working in Hong Kong now or in the past.

Small number of Indonesian domestic workers radicalised while in Hong Kong, report warns

The source said local police had exchanged intelligence with Indonesian law enforcers before launching their own investigations to track down the helpers.

The think tank study told the story of three workers in Hong Kong – one of whom was said to still be in the city – who competed to get recognition from IS militants in Indonesia and Syria. They provided money and arranged trips to Syria for Indonesian jihadis, sometimes via Hong Kong.

Even though they were only sympathisers, the police will still be keeping an eye on them

According to the report, out of the 50 domestic workers identified, four joined IS in Syria, 16 returned home and many married jihadis. Eight were deported from their host countries or from Turkey while trying to cross to Syria.

Separately, Tri asserted that his work to stop Indonesians from being radicalised was an “everyday priority”. He claimed his consulate had established a sound working mechanism with Hong Kong officials to fight terror.

“My part is to make the best efforts to minimise and if possible to make sure zero Indonesians are affiliated with and influenced by the [extremist] groups,” he said.

Tri explained the consulate had long been in close contact with city officials about combating terror, having met Commissioner of Police Stephen Lo Wai-chung last month to discuss the issue. Tri is due to meet Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu this month.

The consulate had not received reports from the city that Indonesians were involved in extremist activities, the envoy said.

“Long before the report came out, we have been having very good and close cooperation with Hong Kong police, in particular the anti-terrorism unit,” he said.

Since 2004, the force has sent 91 officers to Indonesia for antiterrorism training.

Could Asian jihadists bring terrorism back home?

As city officials described the terrorist threat level as “moderate”, Tri said it was not for him to offer his assessment but added no countries were “immune” to terrorist attacks.

“The fact that many foreign terrorist fighters left their home countries for Syria and Iraq may pose threats to their homelands and to [other] countries, regardless of their locations,” he said.

Tri also warned of “lone wolfs” – individuals carrying out attacks but not under the orders of organised terrorist groups.

The diplomat said that after the think tank report was released he met Indonesian religious preachers and community leaders, non-governmental organisations and employment agencies. He claimed all agreed on a need to raise awareness by reaching out to Indonesians in the city.

Tri said he told the agencies to advise employers to notify the consulate immediately if their maids behaved suspiciously.

But he urged Hongkongers not to be unduly worried.

“I received reports telling me that more Indonesians were wearing burkas,” he recalled, referring to the head-to-toe garment worn by many Muslim women. “I said that doesn’t mean they’re radical. It’s a choice.”

The situation is extremely challenging
Indonesian consul general Tri Tharyat

Fighting terrorism in Hong Kong was not without challenges, he added.

“In Indonesia, displaying a symbol of IS is against the law, but not here, which means the situation is extremely challenging.”

While the consulate had a mechanism to monitor who was preaching at the Tsim Sha Tsui and Wan Chai mosques, Tri said it had little oversight over preachers in other venues. The think tank mentioned that some radical preachers had been in the city.

A police spokesman said there was no specific intelligence to suggest Hong Kong was a likely target of terrorist attacks. “Police keep a close watch on international trends in terrorist activities and have been liaising closely with mainland and overseas law enforcement agencies for intelligence exchange and threat assessments,” he said.

A Security Bureau spokesman said the city had “a sound legal framework and strong enforcement capability” to guard against and deal with terrorist activities. When assessing terrorist threats, he added, police “take into account a wide range of intelligence and information from different sources”.