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Southeast Asia on the 5th anniversary of 911

Updated On: Sep 12, 2006

Half a decade after 911, how is Southeast Asia faring with countering terrorism? 

Seen a few years ago as the next battle ground for international terrorism, the Bali bombing in 2002 has awoken ASEAN to the dangers of terrorism in the region and the danger has seen greater cooperation and more concerted efforts to address the dangers of terrorism.  Still the record is mixed.   

A sustainable long-term solution is needed to address the problem of terrorism and the seeds that sprouted the movement in the first place in Southeast Asia. The strategy by Southeast Asian countries then was to tackle two main areas – poverty and social ostracism from mainstream secular society. These issues remain and will probably require a long time to resolve. In line with such thinking, Thailand is turning to non-military solutions to solve the quench the bloodletting in the restive South.

Nidir Waba, chairman of the private Islamic schools in the five southern provinces suggested that religious leaders should act as the centre of spiritual support for local residents and teach them to stay true to Islam and residents should be the eyes and ears for the authorities and help protect their own villages from insurgent threats. Others are less patient. “There won’t be any negotiations. We will absolutely not negotiate” with Islamic militants, said Justice Minister Chidchai Vanasathidya, who is also deputy prime minister responsible for the kingdom’s security.

On the Indonesian front, justice seems to be served – for now. The Denpasar District Court sentenced two men to eight and 18 years in prison respectively for their roles in last year's Bali restaurant bombings. Despite the prosecution, the perpetrators remain defiant. Calling his 18-year sentence "the sweetest birthday gift", Muhammad Cholily smiled and gave the thumbs-up after getting the sentence. "In the eyes of Allah there is no guilty person," Cholily said as quoted by AFP.

Amrozi, Ali Ghufron alias Mukhlas and Imam Samudra had been scheduled for execution for their roles in the 2002 attacks, which were also linked to JI but their executions were delayed to a final appeal. The world is watching Indonesia’s political will to carry out these sentences, given a mixed record of prosecution in its courts. Malaysian terrorist Noordin Top, the ring leader, responsible for the October 2005 triple suicide attacks in Bali remains at large. After his closest ally bomb maker Azahari Husin was killed in a November 2005 ambush, Noordin is now believed to be the leader of a new militant group.

In the Philippines, its military has been fighting Abu Sayyaf rebels on the remote southern island of Jolo since late July 2006 in a bid to flush out leader Khadaffy Janjalani. They are also searching for members of Islamic militant group Jemaah Islamiah. The Filipino troops are also hunting down two Indonesians, Dulmatin and Umar Patek, who have fled to the Philippines and are believed to be sheltering with Abu Sayyaf. These two Indonesians belong to Jemaah Islamiah, a regional Islamic network with alleged links to al-Qaeda and were involved in the Bali bombing. Lagging in competent counter-terrorism equipment and training, the USmilitary has stationed their instructors in Jolo to train Filipino troops in effective counter terrorism measures.

911 and the war on Iraq have changed American strategic thinking as well as its conception of global and regional affairs which inevitably impacted the security situation in Southeast Asiatoo.  Relations and cooperation between the US and ASEAN have improved though it was also clear that ASEAN would not want its relations with the US to be dominated and defined by the single issue of terrorism.  Comprehensive partnership between the US and ASEAN countries would be better in the long run in reducing the space for international terrorists and addressing the ideological challenges posed by the fundamentalists. But in the short term, terrorism threat in Southeast Asia remains potent.

Sources:

Prince gives encouragement in violence-plagued South (Bangkok Post, 10 September 2006)

No deal with Muslim insurgents?Thailand (AFP, 9 September 2006)

Two Bali bombers get jail terms (Jakarta Post, 9 September 2006)

Indonesian bomb-maker gets 18 years for attacks (Channelnewsasia, 7 September 2006)

Indonesian jailed over Bali plot (BBC News, 6 September 2006)

New violence in south Philippines   (BBC News, 4 September 2006)

Threat in Asia still potent 5 years after 911 (Straits Times, 11 September 2006)