A string of foiled plots shows the need to keep pressure on ISIS.
How long until Islamic State gets lucky in Asia? ISIS and its followers haven’t hit the region with their worst terrorist horrors, but recent arrests in several countries show this isn’t for lack of trying. Much of Asia is increasingly fertile ground for terrorist recruitment, and ISIS setbacks in Syria and Iraq could bring hardened foreign fighters back to sow terror at home.
Days after last week’s ISIS truck attack at a Christmas market in Berlin killed 12, authorities in Australia arrested seven men allegedly planning to plant bombs in central Melbourne over the holidays. This was “one of the most substantial terrorist plots” of recent years, said Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, with possible targets including a train station and a cathedral featured in a recent ISIS video.
Australia hasn’t had a major attack since an ISIS sympathizer took 18 hostages in a Sydney cafe in 2014, two of whom died. But several foiled plots and small attacks, including a stabbing in September, have led to 57 terror-related arrests. Officials estimate that 110 Australians are fighting for ISIS in the Middle East.
Indonesia also had a tense Christmas. Police raids to disrupt suspected holiday terror plots led to several shootouts in which five militants were killed and 20 arrested. “Indonesian authorities continue to arrest terrorists who have allegedly been in the advanced stages of attack planning,” Australia’s government said in a recent travel warning. One alleged plot targeted the resort island of Bali, where bombings in 2002 and 2005 killed 220 people.
Officials say at least three of those killed this month were tied to Bahrun Naim, a Syria-based Indonesian believed to have coordinated the attack last January in which terrorists with guns and crude bombs killed four people in a Jakarta district popular with foreigners. Several hundred Indonesians are believed to be with ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
Malaysia recently arrested seven men allegedly plotting to attack an international school, an entertainment district and an unspecified target in nearby Burma. At least one was apparently coordinating with a Malaysian in Syria. ISIS’s lone success in Malaysia to date was a small grenade attack on a bar near Kuala Lumpur in June, but weeks later authorities arrested 16 suspects for plotting to attack police. Officials in 2014 said they foiled another plot to attack pubs and a Carlsberg brewery.
“The threat of a terror attack here is at its highest level in recent times, much more so than after 9/11,” Singapore’s Home Affairs Minister said in March. “It is no longer a question of whether an attack will take place but really when is an attack going to take place.” In August six alleged ISIS loyalists were arrested in Indonesia for plotting a rocket attack, possibly by sea, against Singapore’s upscale Marina Bay district.
It’s a relief that ISIS has had difficulty executing attacks in Asia as deadly as those in Europe and the Middle East, but time could be on its side. Islamist political actors are growing more powerful in Indonesia, where they’re poised to depose the Christian governor of Jakarta, and Malaysia, where the ruling party has stoked Islamist grievances to distract from its corruption scandal. Saudi money funds Islamist schools and institutions in both countries.
In the restive southern Philippines, where ISIS has deputized an emir for Southeast Asia, the draw of the caliphate has made Muslim insurgent groups more ideological and more willing to cooperate across clan and ethnic lines. It doesn’t help that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte threatens to evict U.S. counterterror forces. A little farther afield, the persecution of Muslims by state authorities in western China and western Burma is another boon to ISIS recruiters.
Defeating ISIS in Asia will require toppling its caliphate in the Middle East and deepening the cooperation exemplified by Indonesia’s counterterror squad, Detachment 88, which works closely with the U.S. and Australia. As important is limiting the oxygen that jihadists draw from Islamist politics and anti-Muslim repression. That’s a project for nearly every government in Asia to take up.
Source: The Wall Street Journal
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