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No Serious Islamic State Threat, But Regional Officials Wary

M.H.Tee / Khmer Times Share:
An Indonesian journalist holds a poster during a rally Sept. 5 in Jakarta. (Photo: Xinhua)

PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) –  ASEAN police intelligence units are watching for Islamic State (IS) sympathizers and proselytizers in Muslim communities across Southeast Asia, including Cambodia and southern Thailand.

 In Indonesia, the Jakarta Globe reported the arrests of four foreign men using fake Turkish passports in Poso and three others in Depok. They were detained on the grounds they were members of a Poso-based islamist group led in Poso by Santoso, Indonesia’s most wanted terrorist.

Indonesian police said later the first four spoke Uighur, the language of the restive majority Muslim area of Western China. They obtained fake passports in Thailand, then traveled to Cambodia, to Malaysia and then to Indonesia, where they were arrested by Detachment 88, Indonesia’s counter-terrorism police unit.

But there have been no indication linking IS extremist ideology with the Mynamar’s Rohingya or China’s Uighur. Both ethnic groups travel frequently throughout Southeast Asia, either legally or illegally. ASEAN is a 10-nation grouping which included Phillippines, long – wracked by violence by Muslim groups in the southern end of the archipelago.

The IS issue has become an issue of concern for ASEAN authorities, given that their extremist activities have earned support and sympathy from Muslims worldwide. Notorious for recent beheading videos, the Islamic State proclaimed a “Caliphate” in June, and controls a large contiguous area of eastern Syria and northern Iraq.

Last week, Cambodia’s Defense Minister Tea Banh told VOA Khmer that the IS extremist group has not spread to Southeast Asia.

“This issue does not seem to spread to Asean,” he said, referring to IS.  “It is occurring in the far distance and does not seem to affect us at all.”

On September 15, shortly after Australia’s government raised its terror warning to a critical level, Australian police arrested 15 people on suspicion they were associated with IS. In a series of simultaneous raids by 800 officers,  police say they acted to prevent possible acts of terror. Police say these included threats to kidnap and publicly behead Australian citizens chosen at random.

Muslim citizens of Asean countries have fought alongside IS in  Syria and Iraq. Malaysia’s The New Straits Times reported a former member of the PAS Party died from wounds sustained during a fight on September 9.

As for Uighurs detained in Indonesia, there are conflicting details about the men. They may simply have wanted to leave China’s Xinjiang to escape persecution as a minority people. The wealth of these detainees,  in addition to those found in Thailand in March, resulted in police deeming some of them secessionists.

News reports say Singapore repatriated a Uighur who entered the country from Thailand using a fake passport obtained in Bangkok.

In Thailand, a senior immigration policeman, Pol Major-General Thatchai Pitaneelabutr, said there was little progress in the case of 229 people of unknown nationality found in Songkhla in March. It is unclear if they are Chinese nationals of the Uighur minority, or Turkish nationals, as they claimed to be.

The 229 people, including women and children, remain under immigration custody, and can not be repatriated until their nationalities or countries of origin are known.

Thatchai said he had not received a request for help from Indonesian police to trace the travel route, reportedly from Thailand, of the four Uighur men.

He said most fake passports used by people tied to the Muslim insurgency in Thailand’s far South were made outside Thailand.

In 2011, a court in Phnom Penh sentenced two Bangladeshis and one Nepali national to eight years in prison for membership in the al-Qaeda terror group.

The three were convicted on charges stemming from their signatures on a letter that threatened to attack American, Australian and British embassies in Phnom Penh. They identified themselves in the letter as al – Qaeda members.

They were identified as Rafiqul Eslami, a 42-year-old Bangladeshi national and former owner of a restaurant in the capital’s Chamkarmon district, Miah Muhammed Huymayan Kabir, a 62-year-old Bangladeshi, and D.P. Paudel, a 44-year-old Nepali national.

Earlier, in 2003, three men arrested in Cambodia were charged with being members of a Southeast Asia Islamic extremist group, Jemaah Islamiyah.

The men – an Egyptian and two Thai nationals – were arrested at a mosque just north of Phnom Penh, and charged under the International Terrorism Act, court officials said.

Om Yentieng, a senior adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen, told the BBC at the time: “This is an example of a concerted effort by the Cambodian government to crack down and end terrorism.” 

At the time Western and Asian governments linked Jemaah Islamiyah, to Osama Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terrorist network. Indonesia alleges the group was behind the October 2002 bombings in Bali which killed 202 people.

The three men – 40-year-old Esam Mohamid Khidr Ali, 36-year-old Hajichiming Abdul Azi and 41-year-old Muhammadyalludin Mading – were plotting to carry out attacks in Cambodia, according to government officials.

“Their aim was to commit acts of terrorism,” an Interior Ministry official said at that time.

An ASEAN police official, speaking to Khmer Times on condition of anonymity said: “We exchange intelligence and information on suspected or people of interest’s movements within the region. It is done at various levels and through different agencies.

“What we need now is a coordinated one-stop agency to deal with each country as her own mechanism to tackle terrorism,” he added. “Some have two different agencies which overlap – one for domestic and one for external. This has to be streamlined as high-tech travel documents, easy access to transportation by all means, makes it all the more difficult to keep track.” 

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