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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: Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, 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: Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, 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: Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, 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: Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, 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: Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, 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: Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, 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: Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, 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: Ahmad Saiful Rijal Bin Hassan, Kenneth Yeo Yaoren, Amresh Lavan Gunasingham
  • Publication Date: 03-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: The discourse on religious extremism in the past few decades has largely been dominated by Islamist-oriented trends and actors. However, there are emerging alternate discourses of religious extremism that are becoming relevant in South and Southeast Asia – Buddhist and Hindu extremism. The March Issue thus focuses on Sri Lanka and Myanmar as case studies depicting the rise of Buddhist extremism and related intolerance towards the minority Muslim communities. The Issue also delves into two different responses to counter-terrorism by the state and community stakeholders in their bid to tackle religious-motivated terrorist groups. It takes a look at two divergent ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ counter-terrorism responses: (i) leadership decapitation; and (ii) the Danish de-radicalisation programme. First, Amresh Gunasingham narrows in on radical Buddhism in Sri Lanka and Myanmar focusing on the rise of the Bodu Bolu Sena (BBS) and Ma Ba Tha groups respectively. The author argues that these groups, rooted in Theravada Buddhism, have justified intolerance and violence towards minority Muslim populations that could escalate further, if neglected or exploited by the state. In Sri Lanka, periodic attacks against Muslims since 2014 and the legitimacy of groups such as BBS have emboldened a segment of the Sinhalese Buddhists. In Myanmar, the violent clashes between the Buddhist majority and the Rohingya, minority Muslim community since 2012, coupled with Ma Ba Tha’s rhetoric bordering on Islamophobia, have exacerbated intolerant ethno-nationalist sentiments within the country. The author proposes the need for a national identity that is inclusive and peaceful in both countries with political leaders taking a stand against intolerant narratives to mitigate long-term unrest. Kenneth Yeo Yaoren discusses leadership decapitation as a counter-terrorism strategy, which includes killing or arresting the senior leadership of a terrorist group. The author outlines the varying outcomes of the strategy in the context of religiously-motivated terrorist groups in the Israel-Palestine and Malay Archipelago regions. The impact of leadership decapitation on four key groups: Hamas, Hezbollah, Abu Sayyaf Group and Jemaah Islamiyah in terms of the frequency and lethality of attacks after the arrests or killings of their leaders are observed. It is argued that, “leadership decapitation is not a silver bullet against terrorism”, necessitating broader responses to counter the ideology and operational strength of religiously-motivated terrorist groups. Lastly, Ahmad Saiful Rijal Bin Hassan focuses on Denmark’s de-radicalisation programme in light of the returning foreign terrorist fighters (FTF) phenomenon. The author delineates the components and key features of the ‘De-radicalisation – Targeted Intervention’ and the ‘De-radicalisation Back on Track’ projects which constitute a ‘soft’ approach towards dealing with homegrown terrorists and FTFs in the country. Overall, three guiding principles dictate Denmark’s de-radicalisation programme – (i) inclusion over exclusion; (ii) collaboration between public, private and people sector bodies; and (iii) assumption that every individual aspires to live a ‘good life’. The article then focuses on the perceived efficacy of the programme in the Danish context vis-a-vis contending views made by other interested observers.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Violent Extremism, Counter-terrorism, Political stability, Conflict, Buddhism, Hinduism
  • Political Geography: Europe, South Asia, Israel, Sri Lanka, Palestine, Denmark, Southeast Asia, Myanmar
  • Author: Amalina Abdul Nasir, Mustapha Kulungu, Shafi Mostofa
  • Publication Date: 02-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, 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: Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, 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