More cooperation needed to keep this region safe from IS terror
A lot has already been achieved, but nations need to work together to overcome hurdles including lags in policy implementation and securing porous borders
Terrorism analysts seem certain that a high-profile Islamic State attack in the region is only a matter of time. The radical Muslim group’s battlefield losses in Iraq and Syria have meant increasing numbers of adherents from Southeast Asia who went to fight are returning home and, with them, their extremist thinking and combat skills. Indonesia has twice this year been a target and plots have been uncovered there and in Malaysia and the Philippines, the latest an apparent attempt to fire a rocket from the Indonesian island of Batam at Singapore. The foiling of that bid shows governments are effectively cooperating, but they need to more robustly build on and enhance efforts to prevent tragedies like those that have occurred in Europe.
More than 1,000 Asians are believed to have joined the IS fight to create an Islamic caliphate in the Middle East. Scores are known to have returned, but others are radicalising those at home through social media. IS-inspired suicide bombings in Jakarta in January killed eight and an attacker died and a policeman was injured in Solo in July, but atrocities like those carried out by Jemaah Islamiah in Bali 14 years ago that killed 202 are being forecast.
IS is already active in South Asia, claiming responsibility for the deaths of about 70 lawyers at a hospital in the Pakistani city of Quetta earlier this month and, in July, the lives of 80 Shiite Muslim protesters at a rally in the Afghan capital, Kabul, as well as 24 diners at a café frequented by foreigners in Dhaka in Bangladesh. Links to the group have been established with a terror cell uncovered in Batam, although whether it would have been capable of launching a rocket against Singapore is still unclear. Cross-border intelligence cooperation between Singapore and Indonesia revealed the plot, proving the worth of measures agreed to over the past decade at counter-terrorism and security summits. But the recent Bali gathering pointed out that as much as joint efforts are working, the growing threat means that strengthened collaboration is needed.
Those at the forum committed to steps including better sharing of information, preventing movement of terrorists and suspects, tighter control of cross-border funding and better monitoring of the internet. But as attacks in France, Belgium and Germany prove, it is not easy. The greatest hurdles are overcoming lags in policy implementation and securing porous borders. Much has already been achieved, but more obviously needs to be done.