Reconciliation between Russia and Turkey makes the fight against ISIS more massive. Turkish high protection from ISIS’ sympathizers makes a significant impact on reducing the power of ISIS. ISIS is completely squashed. Massive force attacks them and reinforcements are inhibited.
Radical groups in various countries who are sympathetic and affiliated with ISIS are now facing a difficulty to join ISIS forces in Iraq and Syria. With ISIS declining attractiveness, sympathizers began to leave the battlefield of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The destruction of the ISIS in Iraq and Syria is just a matter of time.
ISIS’ terrorist acts in various countries indicate that the strength of ISIS in Iraq and Syria has been dispersed. ISIS wants to keep its presence by doing terror activities in many countries. ISIS leaders issued orders to their sympathizers to commit terror acts in their respective areas.
Terror is performed so that the international community sees that ISIS is still there and has power. Terror on behalf of ISIS is not only done by ISIS combatant but also by a single perpetrator (lone wolf) who sympathizes with ISIS. But ISIS still cannot deny that their condition is getting desperate.
When ISIS is depressed in Iraq and Syria, according to balloon theory, ISIS will bloom elsewhere. ISIS will choose a strategic place with public support, logistical support, place for regeneration and exercise. The site also needs to be difficult to reach by opposition forces and must be strategically valuable to demonstrate their existence.
ISIS needs a new location after Iraq and Syria have been retaken by international coalition forces, the odds are ISIS will shift its power elsewhere, and Southeast Asia is one of its possibility. ISIS has loyalists in Southeast Asia. The existence of Katibah Nusantara led by Indonesian militants in Syria, which is estimated to have about 200 combatants are high enough human resources.
If ISIS indeed wants to set Southeast Asia as its regional power, then ISIS will send back around 200 of Indonesian and other Southeast Asian combatant to strengthen their legitimacy in their origin regions. ISIS’ sympathizers not only come from Indonesia but also from Malaysia, Philippines, and Thailand.
Southeast Asia is an ideal place for ISIS. There are many ISIS’ sympathizers in Southeast Asia, including militants, especially those from Indonesia. It is proved from terror act that has been happening around 2016 in Indonesia, starting from Thamrin, Surakarta, Medan, Tangerang, and Samarinda. Besides, the findings in Majalengka proved that ISIS does have not only a loyal team but also have fanatic and radical individual sympathizers that want to do terror act with lone wolf method.
Southeast Asia, especially Indonesia has a great appeal for ISIS. Large population and geographical conditions that are rich in natural resources attract ISIS. Poso which has become the basis of the Mujahidin of East Indonesia is one of the areas that are considered strategic for ISIS. This is evidenced by the existence of the Uighur people who joined the MIT.
The existence of the Uighur people in Poso shows that the area is suitable for regenerating and training ISIS’ sympathizers who are not only Indonesians but also from other countries. Police and military’s quick move to eradicate MIT group in Poso at least had prevented the possibility of regeneration and ISIS training in Indonesia or even Southeast Asia.
With its current condition, could ISIS turn Southeast Asia into their power base? Considering that ISIS’ sympathizers in Indonesia are still active, as evidenced by the terrorist acts that occurred in the past years, as well as the presence of other radical groups, the possibility still exists. Furthermore, the existence of sympathizers and supporters in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand allowed them to do fundraising.
The funding can also be collected through fa’i or other things such as kidnapping boat crew that are carried out by the Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines. Although these methods may not be as effective as controlling oil fields in Iraq and Syria that is currently done by ISIS.
Radical group network which currently becomes a sleeping cell in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand can be called back and moved to support ISIS. While this, too, will face a difficulty, especially regarding leadership, considering the leaders of radical groups in Southeast Asia wants to exist and seize the ISIS’ influence.
Prevention and Treatment
Strategic measures are needed to prevent ISIS turning Southeast Asia into their power base. The most important thing to be done is cooperation among countries to prevent and deal with radical groups. The cooperation can be done by exchanging data/people’s profile involved in radical groups, including financial transactions, communications, transaction, traveldata, and other intelligence data.
These data should be put together in a joint global terrorism information systems that are accessible by the governments of each country. The data is used for the government to make a decision to prevent and deal with radical groups. With such integrated information system that is involving many countries in Southeast Asia, the prevention and treatment will become more practical and effective. The movements to prevent terrorism at local level can be done to prevent disruption on a global scale, given the information and interests are the same on a global scale.
The next step is to build a cross-country strength to overcome security gaps exploited by radical groups in vulnerable areas like in border, waters and the sea territorial. Conducting patrols and joint exercises involving force from many countries in areas prone to radical groups will become an effective base. Anti-terrorism trainingsamong countries in radical groups region needs to foster effective cooperation among countries as well as to prevent and deal with the presence of radical groups in the area.
The third step is to build a joint agreement in handling radical groups’ actions and transnational terrorism. Often in the case of cross-border terrorism, they have a hard time handling it because of the bureaucracy. With the collective agreement and handling procedures that are communicated with each other, the handling of cross-border terrorism will be done quickly and thoroughly.
Southeast Asia is a region that is potentially used as ISIS’ power base that is currently pressured in Iraq and Syria. This threat is not just on paper, but truly happening considering the cases of terror that happened in Indonesia in the past year, carried out by groups or those sympathetic to ISIS.
If Southeast Asia does not want to be the basis of ISIS, then Southeast Asia should build strength and cross-border cooperation to prevent and deal with a radical group affiliated with ISIS. The possibility that ISIS will shift to Southeast Asia is still there, but prevention can be done. Cooperation among countries in Southeast Asia will contribute significantly to prevent Southeast Asia to become ISIS’ base instead of Syria and Iraq.
Stanislaus Riyanta, intelligence and terrorism analyst, alumnus of the Graduate Studies in Strategic Intelligence, University of Indonesia