Long Road Ahead For Southeast Asia In Fight Against Is Influence

IS militants parading in the northern rebel-held Syrian city of Raqa. (AFP pic)MANILA: Southeast Asian countries fighting IS’s influence in the region lauded the killing of its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi but said security forces were preparing for a long battle to thwart the jihadist group’s ideology
The Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia, home to some of Asia’s most organised Islamist militants, said on Monday they were braced for retaliation by IS loyalists, including “lone wolf” attacks by locals radicalised by the group’s powerful online propaganda
Baghdadi killed himself in a tunnel in northwest Syria by detonating a suicide vest as US forces closed in, according to US President Donald Trump
Though his death will unsettle IS, it remains capable and dangerous, said Delfin Lorenzana, defence secretary of the Philippines, where the group’s influence has taken a hold among unschooled Muslim youth in its troubled Mindanao region
“This is a blow to the organisation considering al-Baghdadi’s stature as a leader. But this is just a momentary setback considering the depth and reach of the organisation worldwide,” Lorenzana said. “Somebody will take his place.”Southeast Asia has long been an important focus for IS, which has inspired Islamist militants in West Africa, across the Middle East and Asia and through to Indonesia and the Philippines
The Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia are concerned IS supporters from the region and those fleeing Iraq and Syria could exploit the porous borders, lawlessness and abundant arms found in Mindanao to take refuge in its far-flung villages
IS has claimed responsibility for four suicide bombings since July last year in the Philippines, which fought its toughest battle since World War Two in 2017 when extremists seeking to establish an IS laid siege to Marawi City and occupied it through five months of air and ground assaults
Fighters from at least seven countries took part, including Malaysia, which remains on high alert and has arrested 400 people suspected of links to militant groups
Malaysian police counter-terrorism chief Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay said the real concern was not IS’s leadership but the effect of its teachings
“It’s good news, but his death will have little impact here as the main problem remains the spread of the IS ideology,” he told Reuters
“What we are most worried about now are ‘lone wolf’ attacks and those who are self-radicalised through the internet. We are still seeing the spread of IS teachings online. IS publications and magazines from years ago are being reproduced and re-shared,” he said
Jihad will never stopChatrooms in messaging applications used by Islamists such as Telegram showed defiant messages about Baghdadi’s death, according to a researcher who monitors activity by IS sympathisers
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s death is by no means the end of IS. (AP pic)“God Willing, whatever happens, Islamic jihad will not rely on anyone individual, but will always stand tall on the orders of God and His Prophet,” read one posting under the handle Ansurul Ummah
Another participant, Abu Abdullah Asy Syami, posted: “Jihad will never stop, even if our own caliph dies.”Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison made a similar observation and said Baghdadi’s death was by no means the end
“This is a many-headed monster … As you cut one off, another one inevitably arises,” he told reporters
Indonesia, the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country, is grappling with a resurgence in militancy and has detained hundreds of suspects this year under tightened anti-terrorism laws
Authorities believe thousands of Indonesians draw inspiration from IS and about 500 are thought to have joined the group in Syria
Indonesia’s intelligence agency said it was ready for retaliation and though Baghdadi’s death would be a psychological blow, IS would have a successor in place
“It is a war. Usually, there must be a counterattack or the like. When it comes to security, we are sure that we will secure this country,” said its spokesman, Wawan Purwanto
Security analyst Rommel Banlaoi said Baghdadi’s demise and uncertainty about the leadership could undermine operations of IS loyalists seeking to regroup and establish their own territory in Southeast Asia

“Pro-ISIS groups in the Philippines will surely re-examine their roles in the post-Baghdadi era,” he said. - FMT

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