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Rise of Al-Qaeda's regional division?

Updated On: Dec 02, 2005

Singapore - An hitherto unknown group - whose very existence has yet to be verified - has declared war on several Asean countries. In an Internet posting, the Mujahideen Islamic Consultative Council, which claims to be the Southeast Asian division of the Al-Qaeda terror network, warned MalaysiaThailandSingapore,Indonesia and the Philippines to expect attacks on government, military and economic targets.  

     The Council claims to be a merger between two little-known groups, the Mujahidin Malaysia Consultative Council and the Fatani Islamic Warriors Front. In a statement posted on a new Indonesian website, www.muharridh.com, the group said in Malay: "We swear. that we will carry out this declaration of war".  
     The 41,000-word declaration was divided into four parts:
- It threatened to destroy the "disbelievers' regime" in Thailand, the United States and their collaborators. The declaration accused the Thai government of orchestrating terrorists attacks in the deep South that were then blamed on Muslims.
- It issued an ultimatum to the Malaysian and other "evil" Muslim governments. The group urged these governments to repent since they had committed many grave errors, such as adopting man-made laws.
- It conveyed a message to Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his right-hand man, Ayman Al-Zawahiri. The group asked for "further instructions" as well weapons from the two men.
- It appealed to Muslims in the region to stand up and be counted.      

      Terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna, from the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies (IDSS) in Singapore, believes that the group exists in name only as its two component organisations were unknown.  
      "The website has hyped the strength of the jihadists by creating a fictitious group - Al-Qaeda in Southeast Asia - that does not exist," he said.  
       However, there are those who believe that the Mujahideen Islamic Consultative Council might truly be Al-Qaeda's Southeast Asian division. 
       According to The Straits Times, "Fatani" was one of the places Osama mentioned in a 1996 declaration calling for jihad against regimes which "massacred" Muslims.
      The newspaper's senior writer, Mr Mafoot Simon, also noted that a parallel may be found with the Abu Hafs Al-Masri Brigade, which has described itself as Al-Qaeda's European division and claimed responsibility for the London bombings in July. 
      "Whatever the truth is about the declaration of war on Southeast Asia, one thing is certain: Terrorist networks have an enormous capacity to adapt to changing circumstances. They reorganise themselves in ways that make detection difficult. And they are also good at creating confusion. And the declaration might just mean that we can expect more acts of terror in the region," Mr Mafoot wrote. 
      In Kuala Lumpur, Defence Minister Najib Abdul Razak said the Malaysian government will investigate the threat posted on the website. "We must investigate their claim. If they have terror infrastructure, we must take action," he said on Nov 30.

* Govt to probe attack threat by militant group (Bernama, Nov 30) 

* New terror group declares war (The Straits Times, Nov 29)