KUALA LUMPUR: The Islamic State (IS) group’s self-proclaimed “caliphate” may have collapsed in the Middle East but Asia provides fertile territory for a resurrection, analysts say, as last month’s bloody Easter Sunday suicide attacks in Sri Lanka have shown.
Factors such as poverty, discrimination, radicalisation via social media, weak governance, and poor gathering and sharing of intelligence mean the region is vulnerable to attacks by extremists operating under the IS banner, even if they aren’t directly supported by the group.
IS lost the last of its Middle East territory in late March, but analysts warned that the defeat would not kill off their ideology, and just weeks later the group claimed responsibility for one of the worst militant strikes on civilians in Asia.
“The current status of IS cannot be gauged without an understanding that it is a global ideological movement, not a single organisational entity,” said analyst Scott Stewart in a new report for the US geopolitical intelligence group Stratfor.The coordinated bombings on churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka claimed more than 250 lives, with the government blaming a local, little-known Islamist group, National Thowheeth Jama’ath.
Videos later emerged of the bombers pledging allegiance to IS.
The country’s security agencies have faced heavy criticism for failing to act on warnings given by both its Muslim community and Indian intelligence ahead of the blasts.
“Local security officials had been given ample warning,” said Stewart, adding: “...there must be a serious accounting for how and why the warnings were not acted upon.”
Although two of the Sri Lanka bombers were brothers from a wealthy spice-trading family, analysts say it does not detract from the fact that poverty is often the driving force for increased militancy in other parts of Asia, including the southern Philippines.
Sidney Jones, director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, said religion alone couldn’t be blamed for the long-running insurrection on Mindanao island.
“It is because it is poor and neglected and sees itself as having suffered discrimination,” she said.
“That is a very potent set of factors that make people look to other ideologies (such as IS) that can come in as an alternative.”
In Bangladesh and Indonesia, traditionally moderate forms of Islam have been eroded by the influence of hardliners spreading their messages online.
Bangladesh was particularly vulnerable, said Mubashar Hasan of the University of Oslo.
“With increasing growth in Internet subscribers and mobile phone subscriptions, more people are connected online and the bad ideas of IS may facilitate self-radicalisation.“We need to remember that in the current scenario of militancy in the age of digitisation, one bad idea by one person could be fatal,” he added.
New threats come from cells which “by and large come together with little vetting, training, indoctrination, weapons or experience.
“What they have in unlimited quantities is zeal and a desire for recognition,” Jones said in a recent report.
“With a little imagination and better leadership, these pro-IScells could do far greater damage.” — AFP
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