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  • Author: Iftekharul Bashar, Muhammad Tito Karnavian, Marguerite Borelli, Farhan Zahid
  • Publication Date: 09-2017
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: This September marked the sixteenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the US by Al-Qaeda. Since then, the global terrorist threat situation has gotten worse. Despite the invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, forty percent of the former is under the Taliban control while until late last year, large swathes of territory in Iraq and neighbouring Syria were under the control of the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group, which broke away from Al-Qaeda and established a so-called ‘Caliphate’ in 2014. The killing of Al-Qaeda’s chief Osama Bin Laden in 2011 and IS emergence undermined Al-Qaeda’s position as the leader of global jihad. However, Al-Qaeda’s threat is far from over despite its low profile in recent years. As IS is losing ground in the Middle East, its main jihadist rival Al-Qaeda is catching up. While the international community was fixated with fighting the IS threat, Al-Qaeda has silently regrouped, reorganised and rebuilt its ideological and operational ties with local militant groups in Africa and Asia. The transnational jihadist group is not only well-entrenched within these two regions, it also poses an enduring terrorist threat of a qualitatively different nature. It has shifted its focus from the “far-enemy” (attacking the US and its Western allies) to the “near-enemy” i.e. helping local and regional ‘jihadist’ and insurgent groups in local conflicts. Reflecting these developments, Farhan Zahid discusses the emergence of a pro-Al-Qaeda militant group Jamat Ansar Al-Shariah in Pakistan. Al-Qaeda’s policy of ‘wait and see’ appears to have paid off as the group re-strategise and escalate its activities in the ungoverned spaces of Pakistan and Afghanistan. US President Donald Trump’s new Afghanistan-South Asia Policy that will prolong the war in Afghanistan provides Al-Qaeda with a suitable propaganda narrative for new recruits. Similarly, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is attempting to exploit the ongoing persecution of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar to mobilise fighters. On 3 September, AQAP leader Khalid bin Umar Batarfi issued a video message urging Muslims in Bangladesh, Indonesia and Malaysia to support the Rohingya and directed its sister organisation AQIS to launch attacks in Myanmar. The Rohingya crisis and jihadist groups’ attempt to exploit the issue can have negative implications for Bangladesh’s national security as discussed by Iftekharul Bashar. Alarmingly, the Rohingya crisis has resulted in a groundswell of support among Southeast Asian ‘jihadists’, specifically from Indonesia, with calls to relocate to Myanmar’s Rakhine state to wage jihad. An Indonesian militant group Islamic ­Defenders Front (FPI) issued a call for ‘jihadist’ volunteers to defend the Rohingya, raising the dangers of Southeast Asian ‘jihadists’ making their way to Myanmar. The perceived lack of adequate response and initiative by neighbouring countries and the international community have turned the plight of stateless Rohingya into a festering wound that the ‘jihadists’ are now exploiting to their advantage. This issue also takes a look at how the Indonesian police is fighting the twin threats posed by Al-Qaeda, IS, and other violent Islamist elements as well as separatist (ethno-nationalist) groups in the country. Police General Muhammad Tito Karnavian explains the different nature of the two threats, and provides a perspective of Indonesia’s strategies, using both ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ approaches to deal with the two different sets of “insurgents”. While counter-ideology efforts are critical in defeating the Islamists, economic development and raising living standards are key to dealing with the separatists. The article concludes with recommendations that includes community policing, preventative measures, rehabilitation efforts and stronger legislation. Beyond Indonesia, Marguerite Borelli takes a critical look at the efforts of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) to counter the persistent terrorist threat in the region. ASEAN has developed a substantive counter-terrorism arsenal since the September 11 attacks, and has served as a viable forum on counter-terrorism issues. However, while substantive, its arsenal still remains insufficient. She highlights the counter-terrorism insufficiencies created by structural factors and the lack of preventative counter-terrorism measures within the current framework. She argues that ASEAN’s lack of responsiveness to contemporary developments and a general lack of political appetite for collective security and responsibility in the region have prevented it from acting as a driving force and an architect of regional counter-terrorism. There is however a strong impetus for regional cooperation and collaboration given the transnational nature of the terrorist threat and problems linked to returning IS fighters from the Middle East and Marawi City.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Taliban, Counter-terrorism, Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Political stability, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Bangladesh, East Asia, Southeast Asia, Myanmar, Asia-Pacific, United States of America
  • Author: Rohan Gunaratna, Remy Mahzam, Iftekharul Bashar, Mohammed Sinan Siyech, Abdul Basit, Sara Mahmood, Nodirbek Soliev, Syed Huzaifah Bin Othman Alkaff, Vikram Rajakumar, Shahzeb Ali Rathore
  • Publication Date: 01-2017
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: 2016 saw the so-called Islamic State (IS) in retreat following sustained bombardment and military attacks and airstrikes by the US-led coalition as well as Russian and Syrian forces. It has conceded large swathes of territory, towns and cities, and lost some of its top commanders and strategists and more than 25,000 fighters. The group‘s revenue has declined and so has the flow of new fighters. It has to contend with desertions, in-fighting and scarce resources. Its fall-back wilayats (provinces) in Libya have been lost and many in the liberated areas of Iraq and Syria are jubilant at its ouster after holding sway for more than 20 months. Its declaration of the caliphate is rejected by the Muslim world, which has denounced its acts of violence and misreading of religious texts. Since its formation, IS remains the object of condemnation and denunciation by the whole world. Even so, the terrorist threat posed by IS and its decentralised networks in 2016 shows no sign of abatement. Throughout the year, IS‘ active worldwide networks demonstrated the ability to plan, direct, train, recruit and radicalise from abroad, operating with impunity and surpassing the threat from Al Qaeda‘s old guard. The year saw a number of IS-directed or IS-inspired attacks by terror cells or ‘lone wolves‘ in major cities like Brussels, Nice, Orlando, Istanbul, Dhaka, Jakarta and Berlin resulting in thousands of casualties. Its propaganda machinery and online presence remain formidable, exploiting technology for communications, recruitment, finance, training and terrorist operations. IS has caused the displacement of millions and triggered a humanitarian crisis among refugees and in the battle zones. The group‘s extremism and violence have contributed to inter-religious tensions and discord, and strengthened anti-Islamist movements in the West. The stage is therefore set for 2017 to be a portentous and decisive year for IS and countries afflicted by the threat of terrorism. As IS loses control of Mosul and Raqqa in coming months, it will change strategy, focus and priorities. How it will change and what the impact will be are issues addressed by Rohan Gunaratna in his article on Global Threat Forecast, as well as in accompanying articles on the terrorism situation in selected countries and regions. As IS continues to lose ground in Iraq and Syria, it will transform itself from a caliphate-building entity to a terrorist organisation. It will seek refuge in its many wilayats and enclaves, and consolidate, expand and use them as launching pads to mount terrorist attacks. The group will continue with its strategy of expanding the ‘battlefield‘ to the West and elsewhere, and hit ‘soft‘ and easy targets. Overall, the terrorist threat will endure in the New Year and will continue to require effective counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism and counter-violent extremism measures.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Political stability, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Africa, Russia, Iraq, South Asia, Central Asia, East Asia, South America, Syria, Asia-Pacific, North America