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  • Author: Raffaello Pantucci, Abdul Basit, Kyler Ong, Nur Aziemah Azman, V. Arianti, Muh Taufiqurrohman
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has redefined almost all spheres of modern life. While states around the world are redeploying their financial resources, energies and military capabilities to cope with the challenge of the coronavirus, terrorist groups across the ideological spectrum have positioned themselves to exploit the gaps created by these policy re-adjustments. Terrorist groups are milking people’s fears amid confusion and uncertainty to promote their extremist propagandas. The rearrangement of global imperatives will push counter-terrorism and extremism down the priority list of the international community. Anticipating these policy changes, existing counter-terrorism frameworks and alliances should be revisited to devise cost-effective and innovative strategies to ensure continuity of the fight against terrorist groups. With these considerations in mind, this special issue of the Counter Terrorist Trends and Analyses (CTTA) features four articles that identify and assess important security risks around COVID-19, given its far-reaching social, economic and geopolitical impact. In the first article, Raffaello Pantucci reasons that COVID-19 will have a deep-seated and prolonged impact across government activity, both in terms of the categorisation of risks, as well as the resources available to tackle other issues. Perceptions of risk around terrorist threats may shift, with states grappling with stark economic, social and political challenges. At the same time, security threats continue to evolve, and may even worsen. According to the author, some of the tools developed to deal with the pandemic can potentially be useful in tracking terrorist threats. However, resource constraints will require states, on a global scale, to think far more dynamically about how to adequately buffer much-needed security blankets both within and beyond their borders. In the second article, Abdul Basit outlines the opportunities and potential implications that COVID-19 has created for terrorist groups across the ideological divide. According to the author, terrorist groups have exploited the virus outbreak to spread racial hatred, doomsday and end-of-times narratives. Among jihadist groups, IS has taken a more totalitarian view of the coronavirus pandemic, while Al-Qaeda (AQ) and the Taliban have used it as a PR exercise to gain political legitimacy. Far-right groups in the West have spun it to promote native nationalism, border restoration and anti-immigration policies. Terrorist groups have increased their social media propaganda to radicalise and recruit vulnerable individuals. At the same time, these groups have urged their supporters to carry out lone-wolf attacks and use the coronavirus as a bioweapon. In the post-COVID-19 world, revisiting existing counter-terrorism frameworks to devise more adaptable and cost-effective strategies would be needed to continue the fight against terrorism. In the next article, V. Arianti and Muh Taufiqurrohman observe that the COVID-19 outbreak has had a varied impact on Indonesia’s security landscape. On the one hand, it has emboldened IS-affiliated Indonesian militant groups to step up calls for attacks, with the government seen as weakened amidst a worsening domestic health crisis. On the other, ongoing indoctrination and recruitment activities of militant groups have also faced disruptions. According to the authors, counter-terrorism strategies will need to be reoriented as circumstances evolve, particularly in dealing with the arrest of militants and the subsequent processes of their prosecution and incarceration. Finally, Kyler Ong and Nur Aziemah Azman examine the calls to action by far-right extremists and the Islamic State (IS), which reveals varying degrees of organisational coherence in the respective movements. According to the authors, such variations influence these two groups’ preferred techniques, tactics and procedures adopted in seeking to exploit the health crisis. For its part, IS has a more organised hierarchical structure, even if it has increasingly granted autonomy to its affiliates to plan and execute attacks. In comparison, the absence of a central authority, or command structure in the far-right, can lead to a fragmentation of interests. These factors invariably create uncertainties in how, when and where extremists of both ilk may seek to operationalise an attack.
  • Topic: Security, Government, Health, Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Al Qaeda, Islamic State, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: South Asia, Indonesia, Southeast Asia, Global Focus
  • Author: James M Dorsey, Raffaello Pantucci, Bilveer Singh, Noor Huda Ismail
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: The high-profile assassination of General Qassim Soleimani, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force (QF), on January 3 in Baghdad marked the lowest point in US-Iran relations in recent times. It triggered a new spell of geopolitical tensions in the Middle East with far-reaching consequences for South and Southeast Asia. Soleimani’s killing has also coincided with the potential rejuvenation of the Islamic State (IS), and ongoing anti-government protests in Iraq, Iran and Lebanon. Soleimani’s killing was bound to have reverberations beyond the Middle East. Muslim-majority states in South and Southeast Asia, where both Saudi Arabia and Iran have engaged in sectarian proxy wars by funding and influencing the Sunni and Shia segments of the population. While states in both regions have condemned Soleimani’s killing, they have stayed largely neutral to avoid getting sucked into rising geopolitical tensions. Against this backdrop, the March issue of the Counter Terrorists Trends and Analyses (CTTA) features three articles that explore different dimensions of Soleimani’s death and their geopolitical implications. In the first article, James M. Dorsey argues that as US-Iran tensions have eased in recent months, Iranian hardliners, emboldened by a sweeping mandate earned in recent domestic elections, remain committed to a well-honed strategy of escalating asymmetric warfare. According to the author, this raises the prospects for a full-scale war, with the United States also still pursuing a maximum pressure campaign on Iran that has to date, yet to produce tangible results. In the second article, Raffaello Pantucci reasons that despite a general consensus that the US-Iran rupture will ease pressure on transnational jihadist groups in the Middle East theatre, it remains unclear how Soleimani’s killing will shape their future behaviour. On the one hand, Iran-backed Shia militias are likely to step up their operations, which will exacerbate sectarian fault-lines in the region and feed into IS’ self-portrayal as the saviours of Sunnis. Conversely, pragmatism continues to define interactions between Tehran and Sunni jihadist groups such as the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, who appear happy to cooperate to ensure broader strategic goals. Next, Bilveer Singh examines the implications of Soleimani’s assassination for South and Southeast Asia. regions where both Iran and Saudi Arabia enjoy ideological influence among the Muslim-majority states. Sunni Malaysia and Indonesia have reservations about Tehran, but domestic political pressures are likely to endear Iran to them more than the US. The impact in South Asia could be more varied, mostly affecting Afghanistan and Pakistan. Iran through its Shia militant proxies can undermine US interests in Afghanistan. The QF has also recruited significant Shia militias in Afghanistan and Pakistan respectively for operations in Syria. Moreover, Pakistan has to walk a tight rope given Iran has an inside track to its significant Shia population. Besides cross and intra-regional assessments of Soleimani’s assassination within the broader US-Iran fissures, the threat landscapes in Indonesia and West Africa, both long-time hotbeds for terrorist activity in their respective regions, are also examined in this issue. Firstly, Noor Huda Ismail takes a closer look at pro-IS terrorist networks in Indonesia, a country that is home to the world’s largest Muslim population. By examining the background, tactics and modus operandi of local terrorist groups, both online and offline, and comparing their legacy with those of previous militant Islamist movements, the author believes important learning lessons can be drawn to help mitigate future security threats. Finally, Atta Barkindo analyses the jihadist threat in the Sahel region, where a landscape conducive to terrorist activities provides the fertile ground for IS and Al-Qaeda to grow by linking up with local militant networks. The tactical sophistication exhibited in terrorist attacks by Sahelian jihadist groups, particularly in Nigeria and the Lake Chad region, testifies to a growing footprint of global jihadism. Sahel provides an arterial life-line through the region, by facilitating the movement of goods and people between the Mediterranean and West Africa, which has been enormously beneficial to terrorist groups involved in organised criminal enterprises. Moreover, desertification and environmental degradation have also created a conducive environment for criminal activities and terrorism.
  • Topic: Security, Terrorism, Bilateral Relations, Counter-terrorism, Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Protests
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East, Lebanon, Southeast Asia, United States of America
  • Author: Ong Keng Yong, Noorita Mohd Noor, Iftekharul Bashar, Muhammad Saiful Alam Shah Bin Sudiman, Nodirbek Soliev, Remy Mahzam, Amalina Abdul Nasir
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: The January issue provides an overview of terrorist and violent extremist threats in key countries and conflict zones in the Asia-Pacific throughout 2019. Regional specific threats and responses covering Southeast Asia, South Asia, Central Asia, China and the Middle East are assessed. In addition, themes such as the online narratives propagated by global threat groups and counter-ideological dimensions of terrorism and violent extremism are analysed. Globally, despite suffering severe territorial, leadership and organisational losses in 2019, Islamist terror groups Islamic State (IS) and Al Qaeda (AQ) continued to pose the most potent terrorist threat. Early in the year, IS’ territorial reign was ended by American-backed coalition forces, following which its networks became scattered and, in a bid to overcome its physical decimation, more decentralised across the globe. The death of IS’ “Caliph”, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, in October 2019, raised further questions about the group’s continued resiliency. Yet, IS has proved persistent and adaptive. The group’s violent ideology continues to bind its myriad followers across regions. In the aftermath of its territorial and leadership losses, IS’ terror attacks and online offensives have been sustained. The global security landscape was further complicated by the emergence of Right Wing Extremist groups as violent actors on the world stage in 2019. Mass political protests around the world further underscored growing dissatisfaction with the present status quo, amid perceptions that some states are unable to articulate masses’ aspirations and meet their demands. The threat of Islamist terrorism will persist into 2020, especially with escalating geo-political tensions in the Middle East. Overcoming the physical and ideological threat by global militant groups, including far-right extremist groups, will remain very much a work in progress in the year ahead.
  • Topic: Security, Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Protests, Violence
  • Political Geography: China, South Asia, Central Asia, Middle East, North Africa, Southeast Asia
  • Author: Nur Aziemah Azman, V. Arianti, Amalina Abdul Nasir, Sylvia Windya Laksmi, Kenneth Yeo
  • Publication Date: 09-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: The Islamic State’s (IS) territorial losses and military defeat in Iraq and Syria have not weakened the militant landscape in Southeast Asia. Rather, the regional threat landscape has become more resilient and competitive, with pro-IS militant groups exhibiting better operational capabilities, knowledge of explosive-making and networking linkages. Moreover, pro-IS groups in the region have found traction by exploiting local issues to spread the terror group’s extremist ideology. Several major challenges have emerged from the recent setback to IS in the Middle East. First is the issue of returning foreign fighters (FTFs) and how to deal with them. Such returnees pose a plethora of legal, political and security challenges to Southeast countries, particularly Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. A second challenge is IS’ efforts to declare new wilayat (provinces) in different parts of the world. While IS has officially declared the East Asia wilayat based in the Philippines, the declaration of new wilayat cannot be ruled out as witnessed in South Asia and Africa. Further, terrorist groups such as IS constantly require increasing financial resources to expand and sustain their operations. In Southeast Asia, IS-linked groups have set up Islamic charities to raise funds and conceal their activities. Against this backdrop, the September issue of the Counter Terrorists Trends and Analyses (CTTA) features four articles looking at different aspects and dimensions of Southeast Asia’s threat landscape in the post-territorial caliphate environment. The first article by V. Arianti and Nur Aziemah Azman argues that the IS fighters in Indonesia may continue to empower their affiliated groups in the country. According to the authors, this is evident by the apparent attempts by Indonesian IS fighters in Syria to create a wilayah (province) in Indonesia by strengthening two Indonesian militant groups, the Mujahidin Indonesia Timur (MIT, Mujahidin of Eastern Indonesia) and Jamaah Ansharud Daulah (JAD, Congregation of Supporters of IS). IS acknowledged Indonesia as part of its East Asia Wilayah (encompassing primarily the Philippines and Indonesia) in July 2018. In the second article, Sylvia Windya Laksmi examines the nexus between charities and terrorism financing, through the case-study of the IS-affiliated Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) in Indonesia. Given recent reports of convictions around the world of non-profit organisations that misuse their revenues to finance the activities of terrorists, the article details three themes that emerge from JAD’s activities in Indonesia: (i) sham charities set up by the group as a conduit to generate funds to ensure its sustainability; (ii) funds raised for charitable causes funneled into terrorist activities and (iii) social media used to not only recruit members but also raise funds. Given IS’ focus on global expansion in the post-caliphate era, the multi-pronged threat posed by its affiliate networks in Indonesia and surrounding region, of which terrorism financing is a component, will need to be addressed by policymakers and security agencies going forward. The next article by Amalina Abdul Nasir upholds that despite numerous setbacks in Syria, IS is quite determined to stay alive in Malaysia. The pro-IS Malaysian militant groups are exploiting local issues to advance the terror group’s extremist ideology. In this new phase, according to the author, Malaysian IS supporters have acquired better bomb-making capabilities and fostered deeper operational linkages with foreign militants. Moreover, Malaysia is also dealing with the issue of returning fighters. The Malaysian policymakers need to ensure an effective rehabilitation policy in dealing with returning militants and to continue to carefully manage the ethnic and religious climate in Malaysia so as to minimise exploitation of related local issues by pro-IS groups. Finally, Kenneth Yeo discusses the prospects for a consolidation of foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) in the Southern Philippines following IS‘ territorial losses this year. According to the author, IS’ weakened presence in the Iraq-Syria theatre has positioned the Philippines as an attractive destination for FTFs in Southeast Asia given its status as an alternate conflict theatre within jihadist discourse. The article argues there could be a consolidation of rebel forces in hotspots such as Mindanao, with IS affiliated groups seeking to complement local fighters with FTFs and youth militants to launch attacks and gain territory. With the added impetus of a leadership transition within IS’ networks in the Philippines, comprehensive counter-terrorism measures are needed to address these developments, which also have regional implications.
  • Topic: Security, Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Islamic State, Political stability, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Indonesia, Malaysia, Middle East, Philippines, Southeast Asia
  • Author: Abdul Basit, Iftekharul Bashar, Amresh Lavan Gunasingham, Jade Hutchinson
  • Publication Date: 06-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: Current narratives on terrorism and violent extremism by governments, policymakers and law enforcement agencies are largely Islam-centric with an overt focus on the military defeat of terrorist groups. This issue firstly looks into the assumed link between a reduction or elimination of territorial control by terrorist groups and their so-called ‘defeat’. Using the Islamic State (IS) as a study, this issue explicates further on a group’s cross-border/global networks, linkages and ideological spread to assert that the victory-defeat framework against IS is flawed, as its threat has transformed into a network of smaller cells and geographically dispersed cells. Secondly, this issue looks at the rising threat of far-right extremism and terrorism; a phenomenon which has been under-explored, given the Islam-centric nature of terrorism in recent decades. For instance, it has been reported that 71 percent of fatalities linked to terrorism between 2008 and 2017 in the United States were committed by far-right extremists and white supremacists. This issue specifically examines the recent Christchurch terrorist attack in New Zealand by a far-right extremist and possible implications for the Asia Pacific region. In the first article, Abdul Basit discusses the narrative of defeat against IS after US forces eliminated its last physical stronghold in Syria. It is argued that while IS territory shrank considerably, the group is still active with its ideological appeal attracting smaller networks and cells globally. The author states that IS has managed to remain relevant and active despite losing its physical sanctuaries due to three reasons: (i) revising the ideological narrative; (ii) organisational restructuring; and (iii) forming new networks. This is likely to have far-reaching implications on the global threat landscape that will witness a rise in low-end urban terrorism, more competition from rival groups and reactionary violence from right-wing extremists. Next, Amresh Gunasingham studies the recent attacks in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday that heightened post-war ethnic tensions and brought forth civil war traumas amidst an ongoing political crisis. The article examines the possibility of a communication gap among security agencies that prevented early detection of one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in the country’s history. It further details the motivations for the attack as: (i) the Wahhabi factor; (ii) anti-Muslim violence furthering radicalization; and (iii) the possible links to IS. Possible implications and responses to the attack include a rise in anti-Muslim sentiments and violence with tightened security measures imposed by the state. In order to ensure long-term stability, the state needs measures to promote ethnic and religious harmony with strong counter-terrorism legislation. Iftekharul Bashar details the threat landscape in Western Myanmar, focusing on (i) Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), an ethno-nationalist group and (ii) IS and Al-Qaeda (AQ), both Islamist terrorist groups. The article argues that the threat brought on by ethnic violence and Islamist terrorism is facilitated by grievances of the local Rohingya Muslims and motivations for revenge and active presence of IS and AQ networks in the South and Southeast Asia region. The exploitation of the local refugee crisis by IS and AQ coupled with ARSA’s resilience requires comprehensive responses that centre on communal harmony in addition to hard-power measures. Lastly, Jade Hutchinson discusses the far-right terrorist threat, specifically in light of the Christchurch shooting at two mosques in New Zealand in March 2019 where 51 people were killed. The article focuses on the attack, the attacker, his links to other far-right extremist groups and the key role the Internet and social media played in facilitating the attack. This incident in New Zealand signals the possibility of further copycat attacks in Australia and other countries, further recruitment towards far-right extremism online and the need to devise policies to effectively counter far-right extremism in the online space.
  • Topic: Security, Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Refugees, Islamic State, Political stability, Conflict, Syrian War
  • Political Geography: South Asia, Middle East, Sri Lanka, Syria, New Zealand, Myanmar, United States of America
  • Author: Syed Huzaifah Bin Othman Alkaff, Natasha Quek, Md. Didarul Islam, Naman Rawat
  • Publication Date: 05-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: The Islamic State’s (IS) territorial defeat reflects a shift in the epicentre of violence from Iraq and Syria to the peripheries (countries with an active presence of IS cells or other insurgent and terrorist threats). In the study of terrorism and insurgency, age-old threats can persist while new threats are always emerging, either due to policy shifts that give rise to new opportunities for insurgents to exploit, or due to changes in the political climate of societies. As such, the May issue deals with three key thematic challenges in a post-IS threat landscape. First, it looks at returning foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs), who after IS’ territorial defeat have either traveled to or attempted to return to their home countries. According to the United Nations (UN) more than 40,000 FTFs from 110 countries had traveled to Iraq and Syria to join IS. The return of segments of the FTFs indicates escalation of threats in their home countries as they come armed with operational skills and could possibly regroup, establish local cells and engage in violence. In this case, a high number of FTFs travelled to Iraq and Syria from Tunisia despite the country’s peaceful transition towards a participatory democracy, in the aftermath of the 2011 Arab uprisings. Second, in order to deal with the shifting threat landscape, it is necessary to develop new and strengthen existing de-radicalisation programmes. De-radicalisation is a smaller part of broader counter-terrorism and counter-radicalisation efforts that focus on terrorists or returning FTFs in custody. Effective de-radicalisation programmes will provide detainees with opportunities to reintegrate back into the society by rejecting violence and promoting peaceful coexistence. This issue critically evaluates de-radicalisation as a concept and specific programmes in Yemen, Pakistan, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, while extoling the need for holistic approaches for effective outcomes. Lastly, beyond the Islamist extremist threat emanating from IS and other affiliated or local groups, other non-Islamist threats continue to persist. This includes far-right extremists gaining traction and engaging in violence in parts of United States, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. In addition, ethno-separatist groups (Baloch Liberation Army in Pakistan) and communist groups (The New People’s Army in Philippines and the Naxalites in India) also have a strong support structure and operational presence. According to the Global Terrorism Index, the Communist Party of India (Maoist) or Naxalites killed 205 people in 190 different incidents across 2018. This issue specifically delves into the Naxalite insurgency in India, which has evolved from a mass-mobilisation movement to a militant insurgency over the last few decades. The article advocates for institutional reforms to address various grievances to reduce the agency to violence. In the first article, Natasha Quek and Syed Huzaifah Bin Othman Alkaff explore the causal factors behind Tunisia contributing one of the highest numbers of FTFs in theatres of conflict in the Middle East and beyond. The authors contend that the proliferation of Tunisian FTFs and surge in jihadist-linked violence domestically in recent years, poses a threat to long term stability, and could also fuel conflict in the wider region. Tunisia’s strong history of secularism provides an advantage, as the government can rely on a robust civil society rather than adopt a purely security-based approach. However, additional policy responses are needed to curtail jihadist activities and safeguard the country’s democratic achievements. Md. Didarul Islam then assesses various definitional aspects and theoretical models of de-radicalisation programmes. The author further provides observations on the gains, limitations and local context of de-radicalisation programmes, gleaned from four country case studies, which suggest that effective de-radicalisation of individuals necessitates a holistic approach focused on three key areas: (i) re-education or ideological interventions; (ii) vocational training or financial support; (iii) and a viable reintegration environment. Isolated approaches towards de-radicalisation that discount these variables are likely to only bring short-term success and a higher likelihood of recidivism. Lastly, Naman Rawat then examines different factors and underlying causes which have sustained the Naxalite insurgency in India for over fifty years. The author argues that since the 1960s, the lack of legitimate political institutions as well as corrupt practices of the government and bureaucracy have contributed to the Naxalites’ socio-political alienation in India. Additionally, the ineffective implementation of land reform laws, which prohibit acquisition of the tribal lands by non-Adivasis, has pushed the more extreme sections of tribal and peasant people to revolt against the government. Though the insurgency has been weakened in recent years, it is far from over.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Radicalization, Islamic State, Political stability, Conflict, Radical Right
  • Political Geography: Pakistan, Iraq, South Asia, Indonesia, Middle East, India, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, North Africa, Syria, Tunisia
  • Author: Damien D. Cheong, Mohammed Sinan Siyech, Sara Mahmood, Abdul Basit, Neo Loo Seng, Farhan Zahid
  • Publication Date: 04-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: The suicide attack on India’s paramilitary Central Reserved Police Force (CRPF) in Kashmir’s Pulwama district has once again exposed the sharp fault-lines between India and Pakistan, pushing them to the brink of war. The February 2019 attack, claimed by Pakistan-based anti-India militant group, Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM), killed 40 CRPF personnel. This attack and its aftermath underscores a new phase of militancy in violence-ridden Kashmir and renewed hostilities between India and Pakistan. India’s retaliatory airstrikes on alleged JeM camps inside mainland Pakistan (after a hiatus of five decades) have redefined the conflict threshold. In 1999, even at the height of the Kargil crisis between the two states, the Indian air force did not cross the Line of Control. Indian airstrikes signal a qualitative shift in the Indian position from the strategy of deterrence-by-denial to deterrence-by-punishment. Consequently, this will result in a new unstable equilibrium, lowering the threshold of a low-intensity, limited conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. Moreover, the absence of a functional India-Pakistan crisis management mechanism further increases the probability of a limited conflict. The United States (US) and international community’s response to the Pulwama attack and its aftermath is also pertinent. Instead of urging both India and Pakistan to desist from escalation, for the first time, the US and international community acknowledged India’s right of self-defence and emphasised de-escalation only after Indian airstrikes on alleged JeM camps in Balakot. Barring China, no other country condemned India’s violation of Pakistani sovereignty. This will have long-term implications on strategic stability and balance of power in South Asia. The Pulwama attack has also witnessed emergence of new interlocutors in India-Pakistan tensions such as China, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia. JeM has 40,000 trained militants in its ranks and returned to Kashmir in 2016 with the Pathankot air base attack. Between then and the Pulwama attack, it has increased its activities and presence in parts of Indian Administered Jammu & Kashmir (IAJK). The use of a Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) to hit a military convoy in a highly-militarised zone like Kashmir shows JeM’s enhanced operational capabilities. Accumulating 80 kilograms of highly explosive ‘RDX’ and preparing a VBIED signify the expertise of JeM’s cadres. The suicide bomber Adil Rashid Dar was a local Kashmiri, whom JeM had recruited by exploiting his anger and quest for revenge against the Indian state to serve its agenda of ‘liberating’ Kashmir. After witnessing a dip between 2008 and 2013, violence and militant recruitment have spiked in Kashmir since 2015. The number of militants killed in Kashmir rose from 130 in 2016 to 200 in 2017 and 240 in 2018. In the first two months of 2019, 31 militants have been killed in Kashmir. At the policy level, Pakistan’s response to the JeM threat is critical. Kinetic measures against militant groups such as sanctions, arrests and crackdowns, helpful in the short-term, need to be supplemented. Non-kinetic measures like an effective counter ideological narrative and a comprehensive de-radicalisation and rehabilitation plan would be necessary to create incentives for JeM members to shun militancy. The larger question is how will Pakistan create a counter ideological narrative against JeM without compromising on the state’s identical stance on Kashmir? Moreover, effective rehabilitation of a large number of militants will require massive time and resources and a strong political will by the Pakistani military and political leadership. In 2002, when the military regime of General Pervez Musharraf banned JeM and took action against its cadres, the group retaliated with two assassination attempts on him, alongside several high-profile attacks inside Pakistan. In the event of another round of crackdowns initiated against JeM, a serious backlash cannot be ruled out. Moreover, if JeM splinters as a result of heavy-handed crackdowns, some of its members might gravitate towards terror groups like Islamic State of Khorasan (ISK), Al-Qaeda in the Indian Sub-continent (AQIS) or Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). India and Pakistan, beyond proxy warfare, will have to dispassionately discuss the security challenges arising out of various terrorist groups operating in the region. India and Pakistan will have to create joint counter-terrorism and counter-extremism frameworks to overcome the challenge of militancy, notwithstanding who launched and supported these groups since the 1980s. Against this backdrop, the current issue features four articles looking at different aspects of the Pulwama attack and its aftermath. In the first article, Farhan Zahid traces the background and current status of JeM and its founder Maulana Masood Azhar. The author maintains that Azhar’s ideology had a significant impact on the evolution of Kashmir’s militant landscape. Headquartered in Pakistani Punjab’s Bahawalpur province, JeM has longstanding ties and nexuses with other militant groups in the region such as Al-Qaeda (AQ), the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). These ties have allowed JeM to evade bans and crackdowns from the Pakistani security forces in the past. Notwithstanding information that Azhar is critically ill and his brother Mufti Abdul Rauf Asghar and brother-in-law Qari Talha are running JeM’s day-to-day operations, the author emphasises the need to create counter-narratives against Azhar’s violent ideology. The second article by Muhammad Sinan Siyech dissects the Pulwama attack using Louise Richardson’s conceptual framework of the Three Rs (Revenge, Renown and Reaction). According to the author, the Pulwama attack manifested all three Rs making it a highly successful attack for the JeM. The suicide bomber was seeking revenge for repeated arrests and humiliation faced at the hands of Indian security forces. JeM also drew maximum attention from mainstream and social media in the aftermath of the attack. The attack centre-staged Kashmir as a core dispute between India and Pakistan and a nuclear flashpoint that needed serious international attention. It also prompted immediate reactions from India in the form of retaliatory airstrikes on JeM camps in Balakot, escalation of India-Pakistan tensions and stringent security measures in Kashmir. The author argues that such security measures in Kashmir would likely provide JeM with fresh recruits and funding. To mitigate this likelihood, there is need to examine India’s domestic responses in Kashmir, with continued diplomatic pressure on Pakistan to take action against anti-India militant groups. It is also necessary to strengthen international ties to ensure timely information and intelligence sharing to curtail terrorist networks and their financing. The next article by Damien Chong and Neo Loo Seng discusses whether Kashmir could turn into a future bastion for the Islamic State (IS) akin to Marawi in the Philippines in the aftermath of the Pulwama terrorist attack. Various arguments are discussed for and against such a scenario. On one hand, continued violence, socio-economic and political instability in Kashmir, similar to the situation in Marawi in 2017, are pull factors for transnational threat groups such as IS. This is particularly in light of the recent collapse of IS’ territories in Syria/Iraq prompting it to re-group elsewhere. Proponents of the contending view argue that such an outcome is implausible as threat groups have thus far failed to effectively exploit the Kashmir conflict, given it is framed as a territorial and political dispute as opposed to an Islamist conflict. By assessing a broad spectrum of scenarios, the article discusses the pitfalls of the Marawi case and how they can be avoided in Kashmir. The last article by Abdul Basit and Sara Mahmood looks at the security and geopolitical implications of possible US withdrawal from Afghanistan on South Asia’s complex and diverse militant landscape in the context of the Pulwama attack. After 9/11, the US presence in Afghanistan had kept India-Pakistan tensions under control to ensure Islamabad’s cooperation in the border areas to track and hunt AQ remnants. A case in point is the US-brokered 2003 cease fire agreement between India and Pakistan. Now that the war in Afghanistan is nearing its end, tensions between the two South Asian nuclear rivals over Kashmir threaten to provide fresh fuel for regional militancy and bilateral tensions to persist. It seems that several militant groups like JeM which diverted their fighters to Afghanistan after 9/11 to assist the Afghan Taliban in fighting the US are now returning to their old conflict zones through incidents like the Pulwama attack. The Afghan Taliban’s perceived victory in Afghanistan will create a triumphant jihadist narrative for a plethora of militant groups in the region, giving them new zeal and fervour which will make the South Asian militant landscape more lethal and violent.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Taliban, Counter-terrorism, Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Political stability, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Pakistan, South Asia, India, Kashmir, Southeast Asia
  • Author: Amalina Abdul Nasir, Mustapha Kulungu, Shafi Mostofa
  • Publication Date: 02-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: The landscape of Islamist terrorism is diverse, multifaceted and fractious, simultaneously characterised by inter and intra-group rivalries and various forms of cooperation at the operational, tactical and strategic levels. It cuts across geographical, gender and ideological lines/boundaries. More importantly, it evolves at a very rapid pace resulting in fluid security and conflict environments in different geographical locales. For instance, there are local groups like Nigerian Boko Haram that are trying to globalise their jihadist agenda through affiliations with the Islamic State (IS). However, this cooperation is not entirely collegial and is marked by friction and a trust deficit on both ends. In contrast, Al-Qaeda’s (AQ) South Asian affiliate, Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), despite its regional character is localising its recruitment and operational strategies to avoid visibility from media and security agencies. AQIS is abstaining from violence while Boko Haram is engaging in violence to gain public attention. At the same time, the evolution of the terrorist landscape in Indonesia and Malaysia from Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and AQ-dominated to IS-led and inspired, has affected the recruitment and participation of women. The growing involvement of female militants in diverse roles gives rise to further security threats. In this issue, the first article by Mustapha Kulungu examines the genesis of Boko Haram in Nigeria as a local movement representing grievances of Muslims to its transformation as an operationally strong terrorist group. The author writes that the growing links over the last few years between IS and Boko Haram have added to the lethality and brutality of the latter, which has relied on narratives of Muslim victimhood in Nigeria to expand its footprint outside the country. The article analyses Boko Haram’s organisational structure, operational strategies, sources of funding and ideological ambitions. While it is argued that Boko Haram’s growing capabilities will undermine the US’ interests in Africa, enhancing US-Nigerian security cooperation may act as a counter Boko Haram’s threat. The second article by Shafi Mostofa discusses AQIS’ online and offline propaganda operations in Bangladesh and the various political and ideological narratives the group has used to grow further. Along with issuing several online videos and pamphlets, AQIS publishes two Bengali language magazines: Al-Balagh and Azan. In these publications, AQIS has frequently invoked four themes to justify its activities in Bangladesh. These four themes are: Indian hegemonic ambitions in South Asia, Muslim persecution, religious credentials of the head of a Muslim state and Islamic values. The author argues that AQIS is targeting affluent Bangladeshi youth for recruitment. AQIS’ continued online propaganda is likely to have negative security implications. As such, the author recommends adoption of long-term kinetic and non-kinetic counter-terrorism and counter-extremism strategies to neutralise AQIS. The last article by Amalina Abdul Nasir observes how women’s roles in terrorism have evolved in Indonesia and Malaysia from JI to an IS-dominated threat landscape. Overall, the roles of women have become more diverse due to IS’ physical inroads in the region, particularly in light of online recruitment through the open and close media platforms. The author discusses the evolution of women’s roles from wives and mothers to suicide bombers and combatants as recently witnessed in Indonesia and Malaysia. This development will need to be addressed by counter-terrorism agencies so as to mitigate its impact on the security threat landscape. It also requires an examination of the current perception of women in terrorist groups, and developing policies that factor in the gender-inclusive nature of the terrorist landscape in parts of Southeast Asia.
  • Topic: Security, Gender Issues, Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Women, Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Boko Haram
  • Political Geography: Bangladesh, Africa, South Asia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Middle East, North Africa, Nigeria, Southeast Asia
  • Author: Rohan Gunaratna, Mahfuh Bin Haji Halimi, Muhammad Saiful Alam Shah Bin Sudiman, Nur Aziemah Azman, Mohammed Sinan Siyech
  • Publication Date: 01-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: The January issue focuses on an overview of the terrorist and violent extremist threats in key countries and conflict zones in the Asia-Pacific throughout 2018. The articles discuss the regional terrorism threat and responses in Southeast Asia, South Asia, Central Asia, China and the Middle East. Thematically, the articles also analyse online extremism and the counter-ideology dimensions of terrorism and violent extremism in 2019. The lead article argues that global terrorist and extremist threat is likely to persist in 2019 as the Islamic State (IS) is going through a phase of readaptation and decentralisation. The group has established clandestine and underground structures to survive in Iraq and Syria. Its ideology is still intact and continues to be propagated in the cyber space. In the provinces, groups, networks and cells which have pledged allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi are radicalising Muslims and conducting attacks. Harnessing both the physical and virtual space, IS continues to present an enduring threat worldwide. Although the apex of IS leadership and many of the directing figures are on the run and might be eliminated in 2019, the penultimate leadership enabling the fight and supporting the infrastructure will continue to operate in the shadows as they become agile and more cunning. The IS and Al-Qaeda (AQ)-centric threats are likely to remain given the lack of an effective global counter terrorism plan and strategy, the continuation of superpower and geopolitical rivalry, and the failure to resolve the underlying causes of extremism and terrorism.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Islamic State, Political stability, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Iraq, South Asia, Central Asia, Middle East, North Africa, Syria, Southeast Asia
  • Author: Ryamizard Ryacudu, V. Arianti, Alberto Ballesteros
  • Publication Date: 11-2018
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: The November issue features three articles highlighting the need for flexible and adaptive counter-terrorism frameworks. In the digital age, rigid and bureaucratic models of counter-terrorism slow the pace of Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (P/CVE) interventions while giving an edge to violent extremist groups. As such, contemporary counter-terrorism policies should focus on gendered-specific roles, qualitative changes in terrorist-landscapes of different conflict theatres and evolving tactics by violent-extremist groups. In the lead article, Ryamizard Ryacudu underscores the need for intelligence sharing, coordination and joint counter-terrorism frameworks in Southeast Asia to overcome the ever-changing threat of terrorism. The author notes that Southeast Asian threat landscape has evolved in two waves: Al-Qaeda-centric and Islamic State-centric phases. The current landscape which comprises of the third generation of Islamist militants is decentralised and necessitates collaborative efforts by security agencies to prevent violence. As such, adopting the Our Eyes Initiative (OEI) in October 2018 will facilitate strategic information exchange among ASEAN Member States on terrorism, radicalism and violent-extremism as a template to create more regional platforms. As terrorists operate, train and grow with networks transcending geographical boundaries networked efforts by the nation-states at the regional level are critical to defeat terrorism. V. Arianti examines the participation of children and their parents, in a wave of terrorist attacks in Surabaya in May 2018. The author notes that due to the institutionalised indoctrination of children by groups affiliated with the Islamic State (IS), participation of children could become a trend in Indonesia’s militant landscape. As many as 101 children from Indonesia have been trained by IS as ‘cubs of caliphate’ in Iraq in 2017. The author has examined the schooling of children in five Jamaah Ansharud Daulah (JAD) operated madrassas (also known as Pesantren) in South Java, South Sumatra and Central Sulawesi. These schools promote and inculcate a pro-IS ideology while providing employment to pro-IS individuals as teachers and administrators. The current anti-terror laws and other legal frameworks in Indonesia do not address the indoctrination of extremism towards children. Notwithstanding the significantly low number of pro-IS madrassas in Indonesia, the author highlights the need for joint government and civil society intervention to curb the pro-IS indoctrination. Lastly, Alberto Ballesteros explores structural and ideological differences between Euskadi Ta Askatasuna’s (ETA) nationalist-separatist terrorism and IS-inspired Islamist militancy in Spain. The author argues that the counter-terrorism strategy which defeated ETA is outdated in the present struggle against Islamist extremism. The author notes that Islamist militant groups’ focus on Spain is due to the country’s history of being ruled by Muslims (then known as Al-Andalus), Western/un-Islamic values and participation in international military campaigns against Al-Qaeda and IS. There is a need for holistic counter-terrorism approaches to deal with the challenges of Islamist extremism in Spain. Spanish authorities have relied extensively on intelligence gathering, sharing and coordination, border security and other law-enforcement related measures. However, more focus on social integration and trust-building between the mainstream and marginalised communities is necessary.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Political stability, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Indonesia, Middle East, Spain, North Africa, Southeast Asia
  • Author: Rohan Gunaratna, Muhammad Haniff Hassan, Patrick Blannin, Zohreh Vakilpour, Behnam Rastegari
  • Publication Date: 10-2018
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: The October issue observes different dynamics of responses to terrorism, in terms of observing case studies, deconstructing methods and improving mechanisms to deal with the evolving threat. The articles focus on key aspects of counter-terrorism – through transnational cooperation and specifically interoperability, countering violent extremism – through counter-ideology and rehabilitation. Overall, while there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to fight terrorism, there is a need to holistically incorporate diverse approaches that both counter terrorism and counter violent extremism in order to witness tangible and measurable gains. In the lead article, Rohan Gunaratna discusses the circumstances surrounding the death of Bahrun Naim, the effects on the threat landscape in Indonesia and lessons for effective counter-terrorism. Bahrun Naim’s links to the Islamic State (IS) and ability to radicalise and recruit supporters in Southeast Asia until his death, while operating from Syria, highlights the success of social media propaganda and outreach. The article also focuses on his recruitment tactics and network base that enabled him to plan multiple terrorist attacks, highlighting the need for long-term collaboration, cooperation and information sharing between security agencies within and beyond the Southeast Asian region. Next, Patrick Blannin discusses cooperation within the Indo-Pacific region as a key aspect of counter-terrorism efforts. The author puts forward the concept of interoperability, in which two or more states act in a coordinated manner to address a common problem. This will facilitate the translation of policy-making rhetoric into operational responses to security threats. It is argued that improved interoperability will enhance regional counter-terrorism cooperation at the strategic and tactical levels. Muhammad Haniff Hassan delves into the counter-ideology domain and attempts to refute IS’ claims on jihad as a personal obligation where the consent of parents is not necessary. The author analyses the IS’ argument and counters it with the historical story of Uwais Al-Qarni, who did not participate in jihad or migrate to Medina because he was taking care of his sick mother. The author contends that use of historical Islamic examples can assist in countering IS’ extremist arguments that are intended to reduce barriers to engaging in violence. This story can then also be useful in countering the extremist thoughts of groups such as Al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah (JI). Lastly, Zohreh Vakilpour and Behnam Rastegari focus on the need for a rehabilitation programme in Iran for terrorists, specifically with the rise of the Islamist extremist threat since 2017. The authors state that while Iran has a rehabilitation programme for non-terrorist offenders, it remains limited in terms of legislation on its methods, scope and implementation. This requires improving the existing rehabilitation programme while using the relatively successful rehabilitation programmes for terrorists in countries such as Singapore and Sri Lanka as models for Iran.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Violent Extremism, Counter-terrorism, Islamic State, Political stability, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Iran, South Asia, Middle East, Sri Lanka, North Africa, Syria, Singapore, Southeast Asia, Indo-Pacific
  • Author: C. Nna-Emeka Okereke, Syed Huzaifah Bin Othman Alkaff, Abdul Basit
  • Publication Date: 03-2018
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: The continuing terrorist attacks in the West and different parts of Asia and Africa underscore the resilience, adaptability and regenerative nature of the prevailing global terrorist threat. With these attacks, the contours of the post-IS threat environment are now becoming increasing clear. It entails four major issues: a decentralised threat landscape, the challenge of returning foreign fighters from Iraq and Syria, the emergence of new IS hotspots in the Philippines, Afghanistan and parts of Africa, and cyber radicalisation. This requires continued vigilance, collaborative responses and sharing of best practices between security institutions and intelligentsia. In the context of continuing terrorist threat, the massacre of over 500 civilians in Eastern Ghouta in Syria by the Bashar Al-Assad regime is concerning for several reasons. The brutal use of violence will continue to fuel jihadist recruitment, strengthen the extremist narrative and create space for IS-linked and other militant groups to survive. Whether it is Iraq, Syria or Afghanistan, the absence of conflict stabilisation has undermined counter-terrorism efforts in these war-torn territories. The imagery of civilian killings in Ghouta plays right into the hands of groups like Al-Qaeda and IS as these groups continue to be the by-products of anarchy and lawlessness in active conflict zones. Against this backdrop, the first article by Abdul Basit explores the urban footprint of pro-IS jihadists in South Asia. The author observes that the dissemination of IS ideology of Jihadi-Takfiri-Salafism has galvanised a new generation of South Asia jihadists, which is narrowly sectarian, brutally violent and tech savvy. This pro-IS generation of jihadists uses various social media platforms for propaganda dissemination, recruitment and operational planning. In recent months, they have moved from open-end to encrypted social media applications. This development coupled with their segregated cell-formations makes their detection challenging. In conclusion, the author suggests that in addition to robust social media monitoring capabilities and operational preparedness, various South Asia governments would also require robust counter-ideological responses to overcome and neutralise IS appeal in this generation of South Asia jihadists. Highlighting the threat from social media, Syed Huzaifah Bin Othman Alkaff examines the trajectory of online radicalisation of a young Filipino girl, whose quest to atone herself from a ‘sinful’ past life exposed her to IS-recruiters online. The recruiters encouraged her to undertake the so-called ‘hijra’, after which she emerged as the head of IS’ female wing in Marawi (Mindanao, Phillipines). Syed highlights the need for a proactive approach by the governments and mainstream Islamic scholars to impart correct interpretations of key Islamic concepts such as jihad, caliphate, hijra and takfir to Muslim youth. It is argued that these efforts will circumvent the exploitation of these concepts by violent-extremist groups. Departing from the discussion on Islamist terrorist groups, this issue carries an article by C. Nna-Emeka Okereke focusing on the dynamics of the current indigenous Anglophone (English-speaking population) crisis in Cameroon and the escalating violence between the community in the northwest and southwest and the government. The Anglophone community is resentful towards what is perceived to be their marginalisation and the erosion of their unique identity as a result of various government actions relating to issues such as the creation of a centralised state from a two-state federation, and status of the English language. A segment of the Anglophone community has resorted to violence to address its grievances, conducting arson attacks and bombings targeting schools, government and security personnel. The instability has resulted in the displacement of thousands of refugees into Nigeria and poses security challenges to the country as it goes into the Presidential elections, and to the entire Lake Chad Basin.
  • Topic: Security, Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Islamic State, Political stability, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, South Asia, Middle East, East Asia, Philippines, North Africa, Syria, Asia-Pacific
  • Author: Rohan Gunaratna, Iftekharul Bashar, Syed Huzaifah Bin Othman Alkaff, Remy Mahzam, Nodirbek Soliev
  • Publication Date: 01-2018
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: The global terrorism threat has become decentralised, unpredictable, hard-to-detect and resilient with regenerative capacities. The global jihadist movements, principally the so-called Islamic State (IS) and Al-Qaeda, have glocalised to exploit indigenous grievances, recruit aspiring jihadists and fight for local and global causes. Overall, both IS and Al-Qaeda have become underground terror networks which will allow them to sustain themselves for longer and perpetrate more violent attacks. With a radical Islamist jihadist ideology, multiple wilayat (provinces), sleeper cells, lone-wolves, online radicalisation and skilful exploitation of modern technologies, the terrorism threat remains challenging despite the successful expulsion of IS from its heartlands in Iraq and Syria in 2017. Moving forward, in 2018, the terrorist threat will be characterised by attacks mounted by politico-religious, ethnic-political and left/right wing groups. The major risk to the West, the Middle East, Africa and Asia will come from Islamist extremist groups with radicalised segments of migrant and diaspora communities perpetrating attacks in North America, Europe and Australia. Notwithstanding the operational and military setbacks IS and Al-Qaeda have suffered over the years, their affiliates in the global south will continue to mount attacks against military, diplomatic, political and economic targets. Despite security measures, threat groups will seek to hit aviation, maritime and land transportation targets. In addition, self-radicalised and directed attacks will focus on populated locations for large-scale impact, with suicide attacks as the preferred tactic. The favoured modus operandi of IS-inspired and directed jihadists in the West will be low-end terrorism relying on vehicle-ramming and stabbing as witnessed throughout 2017. Broadly, the world has witnessed the rise of three generations of global terrorist movements. ‘Global Jihad 1.0’ emerged after Al-Qaeda attacked the US in September 2001 and captured the imagination of multiple militant groups in Asia, Africa, Middle East and the Caucasus. The second generation, ‘Global Jihad 2.0’, emerged after al-Baghdadi declared a ‘caliphate’ and announced the formation of the ‘Islamic State’ (IS) on 29 June 2014. The third generation, ‘Global Jihad 3.0’, represents the global expansion of IS outside Iraq and Syria. IS now relies on its wilayat as its operational bases in the Middle East, Africa, Caucasus and Asia. IS and its affiliates control territorial space in varying degrees in countries with active conflict zones, and maintain a presence in cyber space. The group’s strength also lies in affiliated and linked groups, networks, cells and dedicated jihadists who are willing to fight and die for IS.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Homeland Security, Political stability, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Central Asia, Middle East, North Africa, Singapore, Southeast Asia
  • Author: Rohan Gunaratna, Paul Hedges, Jasminder Singh, Muh Taufiqurrohman
  • Publication Date: 10-2017
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: October 2017 has been a fateful month for the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group. In Syria, its de facto ‘capital’ Raqqa has fallen to an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters backed by the US-led coalition. Earlier in Hawija, the last remaining IS stronghold in northern Iraq, about 1,000 IS fighters surrendered to Iraqi forces rather than fighting for ‘martyrdom’. Over in Southeast Asia, the Philippines authorities announced the liberation of Marawi after a five-month battle and the killing of IS top leaders, Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute. The string of losses suffered by IS since 2016 nullifies and invalidates the IS slogan of ‘remaining and expanding’ and constitutes a huge symbolic blow to its standing as leader of the global ‘jihadist’ movement. It is likely that the fall of Raqqa was expected by the top leadership of IS and that plans have been made well in advance for al-Baghdadi and his senior commanders to go into hiding, and for the ‘jihadi’ struggle to persist in some form in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. This is already evident from IS’ decentralisation of its ‘jihad’ and ‘virtualisation’ of its so-called caliphate (from a territory-based entity). The ‘decentralisation of jihad’ through its various wilayats and online presence (including videos and publications), is similar to Al-Qaeda’s post-9/11 franchising strategy. IS has been urging its affiliates in different parts of the world to continue the so-called ‘caliphate’ project by granting them more autonomy and freedom to mount operations. Against this backdrop, Southeast Asia has to contend with the threat of IS and other terrorist groups engaging in recruitment and proselytisation, and planning attacks through the online domain. This context necessitates close monitoring of hotspots in Southeast Asia, including Marawi in the Philippines, Rakhine in Myanmar and the southern provinces in Thailand. In the Philippines, security forces have successfully managed to contain, isolate and eliminate the IS threat in Marawi. Although the battle is almost over with the deaths of IS Philippines leaders Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute, the threat of terrorism in the region is far from over. Rohan Gunaratna discusses the situation in Marawi, the activities of the militants, the government’s response and future trends. Despite the elimination of top leaders and fighters in Marawi, IS will prevail in Southern Philippines and pose a security threat to Southeast Asian countries as the leadership outside Mindanao remains intact. In addition, other militant groups are joining IS’ East Asia Division, indicating efforts to expand from the Philippines to Northeast and Southeast Asia. While IS has failed to hold territory, it has been successful in cyberspace, with regular online publications of battle news, ‘religious’ articles, showing exploits of IS fighters and propaganda videos. In this connection, Jasminder Singh and Muhammad Haziq Bin Jani discuss the unprecedented appearance of a Singaporean national in an IS-propaganda video last month and its possible implications. In the midst of IS decline in the Levant, the video attempts to rally the ‘jihadists’, boost their morale, and gives the false impression that IS will prevail. The video underlines the need for continued high-level vigilance against extremist teachings and ‘jihadist’ propaganda and radicalisation in the real world and the murky cyber world. Muh Taufiqurrohman et al. examine the issue of jihadist radicalisation and activities in Indonesia’s prisons at Nusa Kambangan. They observe that lax security measures, understaffed prison facilities, low budgetary provisions and overworked prison guards have enabled high-profile jihadists such as Aman Abdurrahman, Iwan Darmawan, Abdullah Sonata and Abu Hanifah to recruit, preach, communicate, plan and execute attacks without hindrance. They recommend placing terrorist inmates in special prisons or solitary confinement, employing full-time religious counsellors, recruiting more qualified prison guards and increasing the prisons’ operational budget. On the issue of radicalisation, a better conceptual understanding of the subject is required. Paul Hedges explores and clarifies key issues associated with the term radicalisation. He argues that radicalisation is largely linked to socialisation and that there is no commonly accepted personality profile nor a linear pathway to radicalisation; basically, the landscape and trajectory of terrorism in terms of recruitment and evolution are both changing and fluid. In order to counter the booming youth ‘jihadist’ cultural milieu, he argues that it is necessary to have credible moderate role models and voices messages that are packaged to appeal to the youth. He added that any response to address the issue of trajectories into violence needs to be measured, targeted, evidence-based, and empathetic to the communities involved.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Islamic State, Political stability, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Philippines, Syria, Southeast Asia, United States of America
  • 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, Muhammad Haniff Hassan, Mahfuh Bin Haji Halimi, Nur Azlin Mohamed Yasin
  • Publication Date: 07-2017
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: As the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group evolves into the next phase of its life cycle, it is operationalising its so-called wilayats (governorates) in different parts of the world. In June, with the loss of ground in Iraq and Syria, IS has made significant territorial gains in the Philippines along with carrying out a high profile terrorist attack in Indonesia. The operational strength and sophistication exhibited in these latest developments in Southeast Asia is concerning for three particular reasons. First, IS will stay alive and relevant through its wilayats notwithstanding its defeat in the Middle East. This could result in higher levels of violence and radicalisation in the regions where IS might turn its attention. The ability of the so-called Caliphate to operate in the online and offline spheres has already provided the group a virtual sanctuary to survive and stay relevant despite real world defeats. Second, with the seige of Marawi in the Philippines by IS, the city and surrounding areas may emerge as a new hub for IS supporters, sympathizers and lone-wolf fighters. In its latest issue of Rumiyah, the terror group has encouraged its supporters to relocate to Marawi if they cannot migrate to Iraq or Syria. This might galvanise a new wave of pro-IS fighters in Southeast Asia. IS has already prepared them for the setbacks in the Levant and provided them with sufficient religious grounds to press on with their ‘struggle’ through its propaganda machinery. The porous and heavily forested terrain and cluster of small islands with almost no control of the government in southern Philippines suits IS designs to fortify and consolidate its footprint in the region. It will require concerted efforts under the auspices of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to counter IS gains in the region. Even though Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia have done remarkably well to check the security challenge posed by IS, more needs to be done in places like the Philippines and Thailand with coordinated operational efforts and timely intelligence sharing. Third, IS online followers, supporters and sympathisers are now moving from open social media platforms to encrypted ones such as Telegram, Whatsapp and WeChat. This adds a new layer of complexity to keep track of vulnerable segments of youth susceptible to radicalism and disrupt any terrorist plots that may be planned and executed through communication in encrypted social medial platforms. Various Social Media Companies (SMCs), law enforcement agencies, academia and civil society organisations (SCOs) will have to team up and redouble their efforts to discuss how to deal with the challenge of cyber radicalism. Further procrastination in operationalising stronger social media strategies to counter violent radicalism will hamper efforts to curtail the spread of extremist propaganda and avert terrorist attacks. Equally important is the realm of counter-ideology and promotion of religious moderation. A strong rebuttal of Sunni extremist groups’ exploitation of Quranic verses and other religious texts to further their narrow agendas serves to de-legitimise their efforts. Once the ideological appeal of these groups is neutralised, it will be easier to counter them operationally. Terrorist groups can survive loss of sanctuary and decapitation of the top leaders, but ideological de-legitimization deprives them of the moral support they enjoy among the vulnerable social segments. These are some of the issues which the current issue of CTTA discusses at length highlighting: a) Marawi: A Game Changer in Terrorism in Asia by Rohan Gunaratna, b) The Evolution of Online Extremism in Malaysia by Nur Azlin Mohamed Yasin, c) A Rebuttal of Al-Qaeda and IS’ Theological Justification of Suicide Bombing by Muhammad Haniff Hassan and d) Abrogation and the Verse of the Sword: Addressing Sunni Extremists’ Misappropriation of Concept and Verse by Mahfuh Halimi
  • Topic: Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Islamic State, Political stability, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Indonesia, Middle East, Philippines, Syria, Singapore, Thailand, Southeast Asia
  • Author: Rohan Gunaratna, Bilveer Singh, Mohammed Sinan Siyech, Patrick Blannin, Farhan Zahid
  • Publication Date: 05-2017
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: The Islamic State (IS) terrorist group that emerged victorious in Iraq in 2014 has lost its eminence. Presently, it is on the defensive, struggling to retain its strongholds in Iraq and Syria. This contrasts with the situation in 2014 when the group was on the rise. It was expanding territorially, producing shockingly brutal videos with cinematic flare, and proclaiming its revival of the so-called ‘caliphate’ and implementation of Sharia to beguile local and foreign Muslims and fellow jihadists. In recent months, IS has suffered several setbacks, including loss of territory, which is the focal point of its jihadist strategy. The group is also facing diminishing numbers of foreign fighters, depleting finances and high casualties of its commanders and foot-soldiers. Given the above, will IS remain relevant to the global jihadist landscape in future? The answer resides in the international community’s ability to end the conflict in Iraq and Syria and ensure post-conflict political stabilisation. Failure on these two fronts will give IS enough space to recuperate and revive. IS will seek sanctuary among pockets of politically-disgruntled Sunnis, regroup and resort to guerrilla warfare as a military strategy to fight the powerful adversaries. This is not the first time IS – earlier known as the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI) – is facing such a challenging situation. In 2006, when ISI leader Abu Musaab Al-Zarqawi was killed, it suffered huge setbacks. The group went underground and re-emerged in 2010 by defeating the Sahwa Movement, the Sunni tribal uprisings against the group. ISI exploited the Arab uprisings in 2011, and expanded into Syria to eventually become the IS in June 2014. On the international front, IS’ declining influence and appeal and the vacuum created by its retreat have rendered the leadership of global jihad as a contested domain, once again, opening up the possibility of Al Qaeda’s (AQ) return to the top of the jihadi pyramid and merger between the two old jihadi allies. Iraqi Vice President Ayad Allawi recently stated that ‘discussions and dialogue’ have been taking place between Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi’s representatives and AQ chief Ayman Al Zawahiri. Any rapprochement between the two rivals is likely to further complicate the jihadi landscape in Iraq, Syria and beyond. Against this backdrop, the latest issue of CTTA provides a snapshot of jihadist activities in Pakistan, India, the Philippines and Indonesia and the resulting security threat. Strategically, there is a weak correlation between defeating IS-central and its outlying wilayats and enclaves in Africa, Pakistan, the Philippines and elsewhere. Unless each pro-IS entity is defeated physically in its respective area of operations, the fight against the Middle Eastern Salafi jihadist group will remain incomplete. Specifically, if the conditions and root causes that gave birth to IS and its militant affiliates from countries stretching across Nigeria to the Philippines are not addressed, the international community might have to prolong its battle against them or fight new extremist groups in the future. This is why ideological de-legitimisation through robust counter-narratives, conflict stabilisation in Iraq, and finding a viable political solution to the Syrian civil war are central to defeating the jihadist by-products of these conflict-hit areas. In this issue, Rohan Gunaratna discusses the recent high-profile terrorist attacks in Manila and highlights the threat posed by IS East Asia Division in the Philippines. He argues that the recent attacks, unifications of various militant groups under the IS umbrella and the clashes between Filipino security forces and IS-affiliates in Bohol point to IS’s growing influence in the Philippines, and a stark reminder that the group is trying to expand northwards. The article contends that the IS threat is likely to increase in the future, and warns that the creation of an IS nucleus in the Philippines presents not only a domestic but a regional and international threat that needs to be addressed swiftly. In the next article, Bilveer Singh discusses the revival of Al Qaeda’s affiliate, Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), in Southeast Asia. The author argues that JI’s present low profile and non-militant approach may change as more hard-line JI leaders and members are released from detention in the coming months and years, and as more well-trained and ideologically-hardened fighters from Iraq and Syria return to Indonesia. Farhan Zahid details the rise of IS in Pakistan since the group’s formation in 2014, and the extent of its activities in all four provinces of the country. IS has managed to increase its clout by forming tactical alliances with like-minded local militant groups. He argues that IS is likely to assert its dominance through local affiliates in urban centers of Pakistan, specifically the Punjab province. Patrick Blannin examines IS multiple sources of funding and some counter-mechanisms deployed by the global anti-IS coalition. The paper analyses how IS exploits the volatile political and security situation across the Middle East and North Africa to generate funding, and exposes the dichotomy between the terrorist group’s religious rhetoric and its criminal enterprises. Lastly, Mohammed Sinan Siyech’s article examines IS footprint in India in the wake of the group’s suspected involvement in the recent bombing of a passenger train in Madhya Pradesh (MP) state. Although IS recruitment and presence in India is not as strong in numbers in comparison to other countries, it remains concerning given various vulnerabilities and fault-lines that exist in the country. Given the current volatile environment triggered by the rise of right-wing Hindu extremism or the Hindutva movement, another terrorist attack could contribute to communal tensions, leading to spate of violence.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Islamic State, Political stability, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Iraq, South Asia, Middle East, North Africa, Syria, Southeast Asia, Global Focus
  • Author: Iftekharul Bashar, Remy Mahzam, Marcin Styszynski
  • Publication Date: 02-2017
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: In the last several weeks, the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group and its affiliates have demonstrated their continued ability to direct and conduct high-casualty and high-impact attacks in and outside their strongholds in Iraq and Syria. On 10 February, a car bomb struck Baghdad killing 10 people and wounding 33 others. Six days later, a suicide bombing at a Sufi shrine in Sindh (Pakistan) killed over 80 people and injured 250. The latest (8 March) is the attack on a military hospital in central Kabul which killed 49 people and injured over 60. The global terrorism situation remains grim as IS continues to plot more attacks and exploits social media to subvert the alienated and disgruntled to its jihadist cause. On the battlefields in Iraq and Syria, however, IS is on the retreat, pounded by the US-led Coalition as well as Russian and Syrian forces. The Coalition forces are making significant progress in their offensive to retake western Mosul, capturing its airport, military base and main government complex. IS fighters are outnumbered and experts expect western Mosul to fall in coming months. On the Syrian front, IS has lost Palmyra again, after recapturing it in December last year, and is coming under attack in its de facto capital Raqqa. Some 400 US Marines have been sent to assist in the allied operation to retake Raqqa. It would not be long before more comprehensive, co-ordinated and forceful plans are implemented to defeat IS as well as other jihadist groups. With the likely imminent defeat of IS on the battlefronts, it is timely to discuss the global threat landscape in a post-caliphate scenario. Marcin Styszynski, in his article, highlights four factors that will influence the threat trajectory: the strategic withdrawal of IS into smaller Sunni strongholds to carry out operations and attacks, the expansion of threat frontlines by IS’ associated networks and returning fighters, the rise of sectarian and religious tensions, as well as the competition between Al Qaeda and IS. The author concludes by emphasising the need to address the root causes of political conflict and instability if the significant successes of the Coalition forces in the last two years are not to be in vain. This March issue also examines IS jihadist propaganda and information warfare in cyberspace. Remy Mahzam highlights the great emphasis IS places on online propaganda, and the significance of its propaganda magazine Rumiyah (Rome). He looks at IS calls for various forms of attacks to be executed, and attempts to influence specific groups of readers through exploitation of religious texts and powerful emotional and spiritual messaging. He concludes by spelling out what needs to be done to counter IS digital warfare. Iftekharul Bashar looks at the threat in Bangladesh, six months after the Dhaka Café attack and argues that even though the security establishment has weakened IS through hard approaches, the group is far from eliminated. In his view, the current administration needs to adopt a long-term approach to tackle the broader issue of radicalisation and the diverse threat emanating from IS, Al Qaeda and other associated groups in the country.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Islamic State, Political stability, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Pakistan, Iraq, South Asia, Middle East, North Africa, Syria, Southeast Asia, Global Focus
  • 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