KUALA LUMPUR, July 8 — South-east Asia could become the new base for the Islamic State (IS) as the global terror group is forced to cede its territory in Iraq and Syria, National University of Singapore political scientist Bilveer Singh has predicted.
Bilveer, who is also an adjunct senior fellow at the Centre of Excellence for National Security at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), said this is because the terror group also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) would seek to remain relevant politically and gain more recruits through its global franchises.
“The more ISIS shrinks territorially, the more it will free up its fighters for acts of global terrorism,” he wrote in a commentary piece for RSIS.
“The more ISIS is threatened, the more fighters are likely to return to their home countries, bringing ISIS' fight to various regions of the world, including South-east Asia.”
“In fact, South-east Asia's larger war with terrorism would begin once ISIS is defeated in the Middle East,” he added.
The terror group has already declared war against Malaysia and Indonesia, and has managed to recruit some Muslim citizens from the two South-east Asian countries to join its ranks.
Bilveer listed four possible scenarios following an IS defeat or weakening in Iraq and Syria, noting in each outcome that the threat would increase in South-east Asia.
“This trend is already visible in the southern Philippines, which has emerged as the regional hub for ISIS' activities,” he said.
“Since April this year, with the appointment of Isnilon Hapilon as emir, a wilayah (province) has been declared in the southern Philippines, literally a de facto self-declared Islamic State in the region.”
He also noted Katibah Nusantara, the Malay speaking arm of IS, and its declaration of war on the region in May this year, as well as a possibility of the pro-al Qaeda al-Nusra Front linking up with IS.
“Hence, South-east Asia should remain vigilant rather than laud the end of ISIS,” he said.
A senior fellow with US-based think tank Foreign Policy Research Institute, Clint Watts noted the recent wave of attacks worldwide and said it was a form of retaliation following a reported loss of 40 per cent of the IS’s peak territory in Iraq and 20 per cent in Syria.
The attacks include the bombings at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, the slaying of hostages in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and in South-east Asia, a suicide bombing in Solo, Indonesia, as well as the grenade attack which injured eight people at a bar in Puchong — the first successful attack in Malaysia linked to the IS.