Islamic terrorists are relocating from the Middle East to Southeast Asia, home to the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, Indonesia, China’s state-owned Global Times warned this week.
The flow of jihadis from the Middle East into Southeast Asia has rendered the region “the hub of world terrorism activities,” Zhang Chi, an associate professor at People’s Liberation Army (PLA)’s National Defense University, told the Global Times at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, which the United States attended.
Acknowledging that Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) jihadists are “adapting” to the fall of their so-called caliphate in Iraq and Syria, the U.S. State Department cautioned in March that the terrorist group had established a presence in Southeast Asia with its main stronghold located in the Philippines.
Clashes between ISIS-linked terrorists and authorities in the Philippines’ Marawi City left nearly 200 security forces and civilians dead last year alone.
Zhang urged Southeast Asian countries to cooperate with China on fighting terrorism in the region.
Global Times reports:
China and some Southeast Asian countries have already begun joint anti-terrorism drills and will expand cooperation in the near future, Zhang noted.
Terrorism spreads fast, Zhang said, and Southeast Asia’s religious landscape and relatively less developed political and economic conditions make the region “a hotbed for extremists.”
Li Wei, a counter-terrorism expert at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations in Beijing, told the Global Times that China faces a threat from terrorists trying to infiltrate the Asian giant through the country’s southeastern and eastern borders.
In August 2017, Voice of America (VOA) reported that ISIS was establishing a growing footprint in Southeast Asia, noting:
Analysts say as IS militants are losing ground in Syria and Iraq, the terror group is attempting to expand in Southeast Asia, which is home to a number of separatist and militant groups.
Some analysts say that many extremists in [the most populous Muslim-majority country of] Indonesia who wish to join IS [Islamic State] are now heading to the Philippines instead of Syria and Iraq, because conditions in the terror group’s former strongholds have degraded due to the ongoing multi-front military campaign against the group in the region.
Southeast Asian countries have reportedly expressed concern about the battle-hardened fighters who are returning home after traveling to engage in jihad in Iraq and Syria.
In 2016, Indonesia’s government alone reported that “between 169 and 300 Indonesians who fought for IS have returned home,” VOA noted.
Zhang acknowledged that China, India, and other Asian countries have joined forces to fight terrorism in the region under the framework of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
The Afghanistan-Pakistan region, which borders China’s Muslim-majority Xinjiang province, is home to the “highest concentration” of terrorist groups in the world, according to the Pentagon.
As the U.S.-led coalition and local forces push ISIS out of Iraq and Syria, the group’s members are also looking to move into South Asia, according to some news reports.