Islamic militants in Southeast Asia: Entrenched and dangerous?

Updated On: Mar 24, 2006

From Indonesia to the Philippines, the rise of militant Islam and its links to terrorism has been issues of concerns.

Actions have been stepped up by regional governments to address the problems. But despite several arrests and some success in containing the problems, terrorism remains a serious threat.  This is because several important terrorist leaders remain at large, and the problem is compounded by the operation of individual cells whose members do not necessarily know the activities of others, and further complicated by ideological and tactical splits (Reuters, 22 March)

Despite the arrests of more than 270 militants in Indonesia since 2000, the Al Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiah (JI) remains dangerous. A young Indonesian militant Abu Dujana’s recent rise to leadership with JI indicates that the group’s organizational structure remains intact; highlighting the challenges that Indonesia has to face.

According to Mr Petrus, a former deputy chief of Indonesia’s counter-terrorism unit, “Dujana took over the group’s leadership when Rusdan was arrested in 2003.” Abu Rusdan took over from then JI-leader cleric Abu Bakar Bashir after he was arrested.

 “Dujana is as dangerous as the terrorist who heads the list, Noordin Top, and has close links to Al-Qaeda. The JI leader is only about 34 but he was the one who deployed its members to conflict areas and some JI operations,” said Mr Petrus. He further added that “Noordin is now working outside JI and declaring himself to be the Al-Qaeda’s representative in Southeast Asia.” Noordin Top is the alleged mastermind of a series of fatal blasts in Indonesia

“But even if Noordin is arrested, the risk of more attacks would still remain,” he said, stressing on their flexible modus operandi.

The rise of militancy among Filipino Muslim has also revealed the extent of the influence of Al-Qaeda’s international network.  

The recent arrest of Dawud Muslim (originally named Tyrone del Rosario) revealed a terrorist group known as Balik Islam which is a loose network of Filipino Muslim converts who want the Philippines to be an Islamic state. Members are known to have links with JI, the Abu Sayyaf group and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

It operates through a network of non-governmental organizations which spread Islam and run religious schools. It also has a militant wing called the Rajah Solaiman Revolutionary Movement, which has among its members a former Catholic priest who converted to Islam. Balik Islam members are mostly from Manila and unlike their counterpart from the south, they blend in easily, making them ideal agents to carry out terror strikes in the capital. (ST, 23 March).

Whatever the missions of these terror groups may be, terror cells across Southeast Asia is difficult to crack because of their secretive nature, loose network and the ability to switch tactics and personnel.


Indonesia adds new JI leader to wanted list (Straits Times, 23 March)

Thwarting terror in the heart of Manila (Straits Times, 23 March)

Indonesia terror threat ‘still high’ (Herald Sun, 22 March)

No quick solution to terror threat-Indonesia police (Reuters, 22 March)

New leader for Asia terror group? (CNN, 22 March)