Islamic State threat in South-east Asia rises with founder’s death, warn police

Principal assistant director of the Counter-Terrorism Division (E8) of the Special Branch Datuk Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay speaks during a press conference at Bukit Aman in Kuala Lumpur October 13, 2019. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Principal assistant director of the Counter-Terrorism Division (E8) of the Special Branch Datuk Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay speaks during a press conference at Bukit Aman in Kuala Lumpur October 13, 2019. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 29 — The death of Islamic State (IS) founder Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi could prompt the terror group to relocate to South-east Asia, according to Bukit Aman’s counter-terorrism chief.

Deputy Commissioner Datuk Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay told The Star that Malaysian securiy forces remain on high alert for potential terrorism threat in the country after the US announced Abu Bakr's death yesterday after raiding Raqqa, Syria.

“IS will remain a dangerous group despite the loss of its leader and law enforcement agencies, especially the police, cannot afford to let their guard down.

“We have detected IS’ plan to set up a new caliphate in the region since the fall of their stronghold in Raqqa, Syria, in 2017,” the Special Branch Counter Terrorism division head was quoted saying in the report published today.

And the looming danger will likely come from lone-wolf attackers and self-radicalised militants instead of a well-coordinated large scale assault, now that the terror network's central leadership appear to have disintegrated.

But Ayob said this raises the IS threat, and makes intelligence more paramount than before. Lone-wolf attacks are typically harder to predict and can be deadlier should security forces fail to prevent them.

“IS cells might not be getting orders from their central leadership in Syria and Iraq anymore but this will not stop lone-wolf attackers from striking.

“Collecting intelligence is very important to prevent such attacks,” he was quoted as saying.

Ayob pointed to the attacks in Surabaya and the southern Philippines last year as evidence of the group's threat to the region.

Ahmad El-Muhammady, a political science lecturer at the International Islamic University of Malaysia, told The Star that even as Al-Baghdadi’s demise would weaken the Islamic State, there were fears it would regroup.

“IS will enter into hibernation to regroup and they will come up with new strategies. They will likely transform into a movement instead of an organisation," he said.

“I believe his demise has convinced foreign fighters even more that staying put in Syria is not an option. The push factor to leave is greater.

“There is a high possibility of reprisals, although it will not happen immediately,” the academic was quoted saying.

He urged all security agencies in the region to be on high alert for possible IS recruitment and operations, citing the group's potential to be more creative in recruiting people and carrying out operations even more so after the death of its founder.

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