Southeast Asia faces a growing risk of terrorist violence from ISIS supporters as the terrorist group seeks new pastures after setbacks in the Middle East, Singapore’s home minister said on Friday.
While ISIS is rapidly losing territory in Iraq and Syria, this may increase the risk of revenge attacks in Southeast Asia — and certain pockets of the region are receptive to terrorism ideology.
“The threat, if anything, I think has increased compared to last year and earlier this year,” K. Shanmugam told reporters.
Parts of Southeast Asia have long struggled with terrorist militancy and hundreds of terrorism from the region have flocked to join ISIS.
Southeast Asians fighting for the terrorists have formed their own unit in the Middle East, called Katibah Nusantara, and are believed to be in regular contact with militants back home.
In the strife-torn southern Philippines, which has long battled a insurgency, a handful of extremist groups have sworn allegiance to ISIS.
There has been an upsurge of violence and attempted attacks in Indonesia over the past year due to the growing influence of ISIS.
“There is an increased likelihood that the ISIS will declare an official wilaya, or province, in Southeast Asia in 2017,” Otso Iho of defence analysts IHS Janes said Wednesday. This would “most likely” happen in the southern Philippines, he added.
The region suffered its first ISIS attack in January this year when terrorists launched a deadly suicide bombing and gun assault in Jakarta.
Minister Shanmugam said one key challenge for Singapore, an immigrant society of 5.5 million people, would be maintaining social cohesion in the aftermath of an attack.
Pointing to successful attacks in neighbouring Malaysia and Indonesia, Shanmugam said it was a matter of when – not if – an attack would hit Singapore.