ISLAMIC STATE’s spread into Asia appears to be strengthening links between Bangladeshi and Southeast Asian extremists, necessitating greater transnational collaboration between state security agencies, says a new report by an Indonesian thinktank.
The Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict’s (IPAC) report argues although Bangladesh and Asean nations are considered different regions by their respective foreign ministries and security agencies, “it may be time to think about a broader geographical unit, at least as far as counter-terrorism programming is concerned.”
IPAC’s How Southeast Asian and Bangladeshi Extremism Intersect highlights a number of growing trends such as extremist recruitment among migrant workers in Southeast Asia and Bangladeshi students being radicalised while at university in Malaysia.
“The vast majority are hardworking men and women trying to improve their families’ incomes at home, but a few, like migrant workers elsewhere, have been recruited into extremist study groups,” it says.
Bangladesh nationals are being recruited by pro-IS Filipino and Malaysian mujahidin to fight in the Muslim insurgency in Mindanao, Philippines, says IPAC, and militants seeking to fight with IS use Kuala Lumpur as their base before departing for Syria.
Not only have links between Bangladeshi and Southeast Asian militants been forged through fighting together in Syria, but terrorists operating within Bangladesh reportedly have an important influence on extremists in the region.
“Indonesian ISIS fighters see the relentless series of attacks in Bangladesh, many of them fatal, as a model for what their own supporters at home should be doing but cannot seem to pull off,” says the report.
IPAC highlights the “wild card” that is the new armed insurgency by Rohingya Muslims, known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) who operate along the Burmese-Bangladesh border. Fighting with ARSA is an attractive prospect for Malaysian and Indonesian extremists, it says.
The report issues several policy recommendations for promoting inter-agency cooperation on counter-terrorism, as well as for regional civil society to work with migrant workers against radicalisation.
“The urgent task now is for governments, journalists and NGOs to better understand cross-regional interaction among violent extremist organisations and look for interventions that could strengthen local resistance to recruitment,” it says.
“The Indonesian National Anti-Terrorism Agency could usefully have an office to focus on cross-border interaction among extremists that would include Bangladesh, Myanmar and the Philippines.”
“All countries in the region should abolish the death penalty. Not only is it obviously no deterrent to the commission of extremist crimes, but its use in Bangladesh appears to have directly contributed to radicalisation,” the report concludes.