Evolution in Islamic insurgency in Asia
Dr. Jeff Moore
September 20, 2018
Dr. Jeff Moore is CEO of Muir Analytics, a private threat intelligence company. Dr. Moore was a professor of Counter Terror and Counterinsurgency at National Defense University’s College of International Security Affairs. He is the author of “The Thai Way of Counterinsurgency” and “Spies for Nimitz: Joint Military Intelligence in the Pacific War.”
Robert R. Reilly:
Now, our speaker tonight, Dr. Jeff Moore, is the CEO of his own company, Muir Analytics. And by the way, I’m proud to say he’s a veteran Westminster speaker. And as you were on the subject of…? Remind me.
The underwear bomber.
Robert R. Reilly:
The underwear bomber, okay, and his familiarity with acts of terrorism include his presence in the Pentagon on 9/11 when the plane hit. Jeff received his PhD in Thai counterinsurgency strategies and tactics from the University of Exeter in the UK in 2011. He has a BA in political science [and] an MA in U.S. History with a concentration in Military Affairs. He’s worked as a defense contractor, security consultant, supported U.S. Army Plans and Operations Division, and he has worked at the Department of Defense. He’s published many articles… Since we’re starting five minutes late, I’m not going to mention them but I will talk about a couple of his books. He’s the author of “Spies for Nimitz: Joint Military Intelligence in the Pacific War.” In fact Jeff brought a copy tonight and he’s kindly signed it. And also his more recent book, “The Thai Way of Counterinsurgency.” So please join me tonight in welcoming our speaker on the subject of the “Evolution of Islamic insurgency in Asia.” Jeff?
Thanks for having me. Can everybody hear me? Am I coming through okay? Excellent. Okay, good. So this is a very data heavy presentation, which means I could stand up here for a week and nobody wants that so what we’re gonna do is we’re gonna blow through. We’re gonna fly through a lot of the data points. Most of the time I’m giving talks to military and intelligence type personnel and some corporations that are out there in the hinterlands that are having businesses in troubled areas and whatnot. So that’s typically how my presentations are set up. And the data points ultimately support the broader conclusions but again we’re gonna- we’re gonna run through a lot of data points and skip over some of that and concentrate on the main conclusions.
Mainly we’re gonna talk about what’s going on in Southeast Asia. There are Islamist Jihadist issues in East Asia, mainly China with their Uyghur issues and whatnot, but we’re gonna concentrate on Southeast Asia because that is where the bulwark of ISIS activities are at the moment. And this is just checking the map. These are the main countries we’re going to talk about. We’re not gonna talk about Singapore. We just don’t have enough time but we will mention Singapore in a bullet point. Alright? I used to live in Vietnam, Thailand, and Singapore and I’ve been to most of these other countries and so has Mei Lee. She’s a subject matter expert on this as well. She helped edit these slides with contents and some other suggestions. She did a great job on this. So we’ll put up some broad trends up front. ISIS in Southeast Asia has taken off like wildfire and these are recent trends. There are certain things happening in Southeast Asia where we’re closing up certain trends and new ones are starting to open up and we’ll cover that in just a moment. Islamist jihadism has never conquered any country in Southeast Asia because there are so many moderates there they just reject it wholeheartedly but the radicals are beginning to push back and make- get some traction there. ISIS’s main goal is to co-opt existing insurgencies and there are quite a few, we’ll talk about these, and/or harness Islamism that would be the mentality of Ikhwan for example in Egypt, the- the Muslim Brotherhood. That kind of ideology is gaining some traction in Southeast Asia and again ISIS would love to co-opt it.
So country by country: Myanmar has an insurgency that at one point said, ‘yes, we are Islamist Jihadist’ and then, lo and behold, they turn around and said, ‘you know, we’re not and we have nothing to do with Islamist jihadism’. And I think this might be the first time that that’s ever happened in an Islamist Jihadist insurgency situation. But we’ll- we’ll cover some details on that a minute.
Thailand has an insurgency on its southern border. It has remained local but ISIS is in-country and there are some troubling data points there.
Malaysia [is] similar to the United States where we have a continual stream of Islamist Jihadist[s] trying to stage attacks here. Malaysia has had at times 50. We’ll get to that. That’s very interesting. And they have done- Malaysia by the way has done a masterful job at keeping violence from happening in-country.
Indonesia has had a history of… was spiking violence from Islamist Jihadist groups since the end of World War II and what they are looking at now seems to be something akin to terrorist cells turning into an insurgency and again, this is Isis-based.
Philippines is very similar. They have started out with a lot of terrorist cells in-country. There [are] a lot of insurgencies that exist in the Philippines already and ISIS recently tried to take over a city and they pretty much did for a large part of the summer and they failed. They lost that battle and now it looks like they’re turning into an insurgency there as well.
Three more data points regarding- backing up what’s happening in Southeast Asia. Singapore for the past year plus has said that they are at their highest threat level they have ever been at since right around the 9/11 time period. And Malaysia’s Southeast Asia Regional Center for Counterterrorism ran a survey at the university level of 2000 university students and the conclusion was that 21 percent of their university students say that terrorism is useful to achieve your strategic needs. And that is very troubling and this is not a think-tank, this is the Malaysian government saying this. And regional governments are stepping up across the board. Can they stem the tide? Can they block more terrible attacks that might be coming down the pipeline? No one is sure yet.
Why it matters to the U.S. besides trade, besides tourist attacks, besides our allies suffering from terrorism etc.: Ramzi Yousef and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed found sanctuary in the Philippines. They planned a lot of pre 9/11-style plots there, the Bojinka plot in particular and the last 9/11 planning session that Al-Qaeda had before the attacks happened in Kuala Lumpur in January of 2000. And it wasn’t just Al-Qaeda it was Jemaah Islamiyah and other organizations such as KMM, which is more or less the JI of Malaysia. So there’s a lot of reasons that the United States should be following this very carefully. Alright?
So we’ll begin with Myanmar. The top bullet points people do Masters’ theses on. They do PhDs on. And so we’re not going to cover everything here. Suffice to say that l2 insurgency or l squared, long-running and local. Myanmar has been experiencing an insurgency since the end of World War II; the Kachins, the Shan, the Wa, the Karens. It’s just been going on and on and it is known generally as the world’s longest-running insurgency zone. What is happening in Rakhine state where it is circled in red over here that borders Bangladesh is nothing new. People in Rakhine and there are specific Muslim organizations in Rakhine have been in revolt since the end of World War II just like scores of other organizations and the government has engaged in some counterinsurgency but mostly it’s been heavy suppression and denial of citizenship rights.
So flash-forward to 9 October 2016. This gentleman here, Attah Ullah, Pakistan-born, Saudi-based, Saudi-educated, seemingly saw what was happening in Rakhine state, especially with the 2012 Muslim-Buddhist communal violence that was just terrible; lots of rapes, lots of people killed with machetes, lots of houses and entire neighborhoods burned and it forced the mass exodus of tens of thousands of Rohingya from there across the border into Bangladesh. This gentleman saw what was going on and it seems like he figured that a good dose of Islamist Jihadism of the ISIS brand would help the people in Rakhine, would help that revolt and stabilize it and push off the government. So on that day they announced that they had declared a jihad against Myanmar and they were going to free Rakhine state for Muslims living in Rakhine and the name of their organization was the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army or arson. The name of the state now is Rakhine but it used to be called Arakan. And so that war kicked on. It moved on and there were lots of battles between the government and ARSA. And the Myanmar government moved in with tens of thousands of troops and has been accused of mass genocide by the UN. The technical term was the Myanmar Army has moved into Rakhine State with genocidal intent. The Myanmar government has also denied citizenship of most people in Rakhine and has referred to them as Bengalis, which is more or less a racial slur in this context. So the war moved forward and then in August 2017 ARSA attacked 30 government targets at one time. There were a hundred people, hundreds of people involved in these attacks. ARSA came out on the losing end of those battles, most of them anyway. Oddly however they abducted and executed 131 Hindu civilians, which is something that they hadn’t done before in an apparent or supposed plot to try to help ethnically cleanse or religiously cleanse Rakhine state. And that brought down the thunder again from the government. So far the government’s operations have probably displaced about 700,000 refugees most of whom are in Bangladesh in camps, but a lot of these people have fled the area in boats. They’ve created a boat people crisis like the end of the Vietnam War and a lot of those folks are now in Malaysia. And we’ll get to that in a minute because all of these conflicts, ladies and gentlemen, are connected, even the ones that seem kind of small and local and what not. So this was Phase 1 to Phase 2: we are Islamist.
Phase 3: lo and behold, we are not Islamist Jihadist. They issued a statement on 14 September 2017, complete turnaround, they rejected Islamist Jihadism. They specifically by name rejected ISIS, Al Qaeda, other Islamist jihadist movements, and said quite frankly that they would work with other counterterrorism forces of states in the area to keep Islamic jihadists from infiltrating Rakhine state and messing up that conflict anymore. They said it’s bloody enough. It’s messy enough. We don’t need the Al-Qaeda’s and the ISIS’s of the world coming in here and making trouble. And I can’t think of another instance where that has happened. There are some Islamist Jihadist movements in the Philippines that have said that the JI-type movements and ISIS have gone too far. And even during the battle for Marawi, which we’ll talk about, you had groups like the Moro Islamic Liberation Front escorting civilians to safety through ISIS lines. So Southeast Asia can be a little bit of a mixed bag. You could have some people kind of being Islamist Jihadist sometimes and then they’ll back away from it. But again this is the first time I’ve ever seen anybody commit to Islamist Jihad with the videos and the songs and the ISIS salute, the whole nine yards, and then completely back away from it. So that’s where we are at the moment.
In the past two years we’ve seen Al-Qaeda, ISIS, the Bangladeshi JMB all provide verbal and moral support to the Rohingya issue, to ARSA specifically. We’ve had violence. We’ve had people in these different areas… Indonesia… Bangladesh… There was a bomb and this gentleman Abdul Artan who attacked the Ohio State University campus with his vehicle. They have all said we’re doing this for the Rohingya people. And after this statement on 14 September 2017 can they still do that? So that’s the big what-if. What do we do now? What do we watch for now? Phase 4 the data points suggest trouble but the statement that ARSA released signifies, ‘everybody drop it, leave us alone’. That’s where we are. Will this increase in the future? We don’t know but it’s going to be interesting to to see what happens so watch this space, right?
Thailand: another very local and long-running insurgency. The origins go all the way back to 1902. They’ve had scores of rebel groups there, trying to win some kind of autonomy for this southern border region of the four provinces Songkhla, Pattani, Narathiwat, Yala, and they have some sanctuary across the border in Malaysia. Well the modern version of the insurgency here really picked up in 1975 and the Thai government through classic counterinsurgency strategies defeated it in 1998. Plus the Malaysian government collapsed on the rebel camps in northern Malaysia and the movement pretty much dried up. Flash-forward to 2004 however, this would be Phase 2, a group of people attacked several police and military bases. They slit the throats of a lot of the Buddhist soldiers and they told the Muslim soldiers you need to vacate the Thai army and join us because we are starting a jihad and that they did. They even wrote a guidebook on it called fight for the liberation of Patani spelled with one T. That’s the traditional spelling of it. There are scores of groups all fighting the Thai government in this area. The main one that the government has heralded as the main insurgent group there is called the Barisan Revolusi Nasional which is Malay for, more or less, the National Liberation Front, the BRN. They have since 2004 made heavy use of terrorist tactics. There used to be about 300 assassination operations every year. That didn’t mean that 300 people were killed in every single operation but that meant that that many assassinations were mobilized against civilians, the police, military every year for several years. More than 100 bombings a year. Anywhere between 25 and 50 raids a year, a light infantry attack for example on a police post or 25 to 50 ambushes a year. In the 2005, ’06, ’07 period outside of Iraq there were more IEDs going off in southern Thailand than anywhere else in the world. They- they’ve got their mess together and they know what they’re doing and they are a force to be reckoned with. They’ve also engaged in scores of beheadings and a lot of post-mortem body mutilations. On occasion they’ll shoot someone and as they’re dying in the car they’ll set them on fire. They do that too teachers quite a bit and they’ve done some other pretty disgusting things that we won’t get into but there’s a lot of anger and dehumanization in this particular movement. So this was Phase 2. Oh by the way the Thai and regional experts are always looking for Jemaah Islamiyah or Al-Qaeda or some other type group that is trying to infiltrate this particular movement. So far the scuttlebutt is that the southern insurgency wants to remain small and center. They might find inspiration in Islamist Jihad, global Islamist Jihad, but apparently they don’t want any of these groups coming in and controlling what they do. They are fighting for their own Patani Sultanate that should exist between Thailand and Malaysia proper. So apparently they have again rejected JI and Al-Qaeda and ISIS and all that.
A few notes on what’s happened recently in this insurgency: the government has enacted very effective counterinsurgency strategies to the point that in 2010 there were around 2,000 plus attacks. In 2017 they had reduced that to just under 500. That’s pretty strong. That’s pretty important, number one. Number two MARA Pattani, which is an administrative organization that represents the insurgents in peace talks with the Thai government has been very frustrated because they have gotten no traction whatsoever. There was a previous time administration that said you know we can talk about autonomy. We might give you autonomy. We’ll see about autonomy, etc., etc. The new government in Thailand has said absolutely no way, no how. You can stop fighting and we can have peace in development and have a more robust economy and all those kinds of things but we’re just not going to let you separate because if we let you separate, then we’ve got to talk to the- the remnants of the Red Shirt Movement up in the north and the northeast and we don’t want to do that. Thailand will stay whole. So since 2004 the insurgents have made no progress whatsoever. They have forced a lot of Buddhists out of the region but other than that- that’s it. So up pops this audacious cell of terrorists. They are youngsters and it’s not clear if they’re operating on their own or if they are operating at the behest of their BRN betters, their commanders. But they have engaged in some things that we hadn’t seen before earlier in the conflict. March 2016: they took over a hospital. They didn’t kill the nurses or the doctors but they went in with heavy weapons. They used it as a firing platform to inundate a nearby paramilitary camp with with heavy fire, m60s, heavy machine guns, assault rifle fire and all that kind of thing. August 2016: they set off 24 bombs or they they planted 24 bombs in seven provinces outside the insurgency zone. So the red circle is where the insurgency zone is. And every now and then they’ll stage a bombing outside of it. But again on that particular day 24 bombs and seven provinces all the way up the isthmus of Thailand, highly unusual, very audacious. They’re used to setting off car bombs and whatnot but in May 2017 they set off a giant vehicle-borne IED at the big seed superstore. which is kind of like a Walmart with Buddhists and Muslims in it. And they secured that vehicle by killing the man who was driving it but they also tortured him. That’s a little bit unusual. And finally in August 2017 this particular cell was looking to secure, steal multiple vehicles and use them in car bomb attacks. And they took hostages which is something that they rarely do. And they started to execute them, which is something they rarely do. So these might seem like very small tactical issues but if you step back and you look at what’s happening in Thailand writ large, you’ve got a peace talk- peace talks, excuse me, that are making no traction whatever. You’ve got- and they’re very very frustrated with that by the way. They have a decision point. What do we do? Do we just stay engaged in the peace talks and try to make progress? Maybe one day do we dial back the violence or do we ratchet up the violence or maybe a combination of both. This might be what’s happening here.
So why are we even talking about this and ISIS? Because ISIS is not entrenched in this movement at all that we can tell but there are linkages there. In February 2016 there were some Thai government personnel that started talking about – and ex-government personnel as well – that started talking about an ISIS unit that had infiltrated the area that was calling themselves Black- the Black Swans. The other side of the Thai national security sector completely said that’s hogwash. It’s not going on etc., etc. February 2017: six ISIS personnel were arrested in Malaysia one of them was Thai. March 2017: Isis smuggled- a weapons smuggling ring from southern Thailand into Malaysia was busted. And in February 2018 the Thai government said it was watching 50 websites that had ISIS-southern Thai insurgency linkages to it. They’re not happy about that at all. They’re not fearful that ISIS is going to take over this movement, nobody is, but the linkages are troubling and they merit watching because again you’ve got a very frustrated command of the insurgency. Peace talks are getting nowhere. What happens next? ISIS is in the area. It doesn’t look good. So that might be a face for lack of traction, might open the door for ISIS. Maybe a splinter group might form. We don’t know but it’s something worth watching. And oh by the way the Malaysians arrested a Thai person that was connected to a Malaysian ISIS cell in Malaysia.
The Malaysian government said that this man, Mr. Aweyh, was definitely ISIS, that he was involved in a plot to plant bombs and assassinate Malaysian police officers. [They were] convinced he was Isis. [They] turn[ed] him over to the Thai government. The Thai government interviewed him and said no, he’s just an internet troll. He is not connected to ISIS. We went through this thoroughly with him. He’s doing some internet activity but he doesn’t seem like the operational or operational support type to us at all and they let him go. So there’s all sorts of back-and-forth between the governments also in Southeast Asia as well. Some people see terrorists and some people see just internet trolls. So again we’ll have to wait and see what happens. Malaysia: again this is the country where ISIS has surged. There has always been Islamism in Malaysia. They’ve got the pan-Malaysian Islamic party. It’s been there since 1951. It has very strict Sharia law in certain parts of Malaysia. Other parts of Malaysia could absolutely [not] care less about that. You go to Kuala Lumpur and you can go into a bar, you can go into a nightclub, you can watch sports, whatever you want and there will be Muslims all around you having a beer, slapping you on the back, listening to the latest Led Zeppelin music piping through the radio or Linkin Park or whatever rock n’ roll you like. I could really like now. It’s a very pluralistic society in that regard but there is this Islamist vein that is pushing a little bit harder now against the moderate Muslims. Malaysia has also had its share of terrorist support activity, again, the 9/11 summit in January 2000 and they’ve always had to deal with JI and KMM trying to make trouble. The government has pushed back against the Islamist Jihadist[s] trying to conduct violence in Malaysia and they have been masterful at that. I think they’re probably one of the best intelligence and police… They have one of the best intelligence and police apparatus maybe in the world in fighting Islamist Jihad because after all of these attempted attacks and terrorist cells that have tried to solidify themselves in Malaysia and actually carry out operations, there’s been one ISIS terrorist attack and that was in June 2016. Two guys on a motorcycle road by one of these bars in Kuala Lumpur, pulled the pen off a grenade, threw it in and exploded. It didn’t kill anybody, injured people but that was it.
So we’re looking now at Phase 2. ISIS has surged into Malaysia like it has surged into the Philippines and Indonesia between 2014 and now this is pretty astronomical. Malaysia has halted 19 ISIS plus they have arrested 369 people 87 of whom were foreigners. That ladies, and gentlemen, spells trouble. Recent operations: February March 6 ISIS personnel were arrested plotting against non-Muslim places of worship like churches for example and they were also tarting targeting police. This has societal cleansing overtones and when you typically start to target the police a lot of it has insurgency type overtones. In March 2018 an Abu Sayyaf group leader from the Philippines was captured in Sabah up there where the red circle is. That is trouble because the Abu Sayyaf group is linked, is participating with ISIS in the Philippines. We’ve got July 2018… So this is just to demonstrate that this isn’t something that happened a couple of months ago or last year. It’s happening right now as we speak. July 2018: seven ISIS personnel were arrested. Again, bomb plots, assassination plots against the king and Prime Minister Mahathir, Mahathir Mohamed. It was the biggest crackdown on ISIS since 2016. It was a five state operation. Think about a five state operation happening here in the United States, capturing ISIS people. That’s what Malaysia just did. Four Malaysians [and] three Indonesians [were] captured so again there’s that cross [pollination] from another country that the Malaysians think is quite troubling. And it doesn’t get any better.
Phase 3: oh we don’t have Phase 3. Phase 3 is what we’re looking into the future, extra data points. These recent developments don’t come from some think-tank here in the U.S. They don’t come from George Bush or NASCAR or anything like that. They come from the Malaysians themselves. In fact they come from Malaysia’s Special Branch, which is sort of like their version of the FBI, and their Atomic Energy Licensing Board. And they’re looking at three issues here that are very troubling for them. Number one: women and foreigners. They are noticing a trend now amongst the ISIS groups that instead of just having women as support personnel, to hide weaponry to hide bombs, to hide the bombing group that will carry out the attack the next day and that kind of thing. Women are becoming attackers, right? Women are becoming attackers. May 2018: during the 14th general election they stopped a woman who had built a car bomb with or she was planning on building a car bomb with gas cylinders and she was going to drive it into a voting place, a polling station. And of course they are worried about Rohingya. ISIS is trying to recruit Rohingya that have been displaced from Myanmar and who are now in Malaysia. And they are trying to recruit those people for operations in Malaysia and in other places throughout Southeast Asia, very troubling. And of course there’s Indonesians and Philippine personnel working for ISIS or associated with ISIS that have been captured in Malaysia plus the Thai. So it’s not good. The nuclear worries: and this again was from the Atomic Energy Licensing Board Director Mr. Hamrah Ali. And this is a good thing about the Malaysians.
I want to pause here for a moment. There’s lots of governments in Southeast Asia that will ease back on the details and they don’t talk about the arrests and all those kinds of things and exactly what’s going on. The Malaysians are the complete opposite. You can read any article in Reuters or through through Malaysian news outlets and whatnot and this stuff’s just plastered all over the place. Here we have this very important government guy saying that there have been 20 cases of radiological or nuclear materials being lost or stolen in Malaysia. Some of it has been recovered. Some of it has not been. There are particularly a concern about the Indonesian terrorists arrested in August 2017 that we’re trying to convert Thorium-232 into Uranium-233 and make a dirty bomb out of it. They were gonna detonate it with the TATP, which is the ‘mother of satan’ explosive that Al-Qaeda likes. And based on all that they had installed radioactive detectors at seven different points of entry throughout Malaysia and believe me they’ve done even more. And again this is the government speaking very freely with the public, very freely with the press, and saying look we’ve got these very serious issues and this is not going to be an easy ride. It’s almost as if they’re prepping the population for something bad that could happen and they are doing everything they can to stay on top of it, believe me. Counter ideology, ideology, now is what the defense men are saying- Defense Minister is saying is one of the most important counters to this ISIS phenomenon. And he just said it right there, “some teachings in religion are malign and misunderstood, but regarding Islam specifically says there are teachings of jihad and martyrdom which are considered to justify violent acts of terrorists. It is our duty, the state’s duty, the Army’s duty to correct such wrong understanding.” This is absolutely remarkable for a country like Malaysia to come out and say this. It just demonstrates absolutely how dedicated they are to quelling this. They’re doing everything they can.
Phase 3: what happens in Phase 3? Well we don’t know we’re on the cusp of something new. ISIS is going to try and innovate to circumvent effective government security since again the Malaysians have been masterful at it so far. They might surge even more plots and obviously they’re going to try to continue to use foreigners and women. The nuclear or chemical or biological issue is real in Malaysia. It is real also in Indonesia.
Let’s talk about Indonesia. Similar to Malaysia and similar to Thailand and similar to Myanmar, Indonesia has had Islamist veins running through that society for decades and they’ve also experienced their fair share of terrorism and insurgency. Dar ul Islam is one of the core groups that tried to start the original Islamic state in Indonesia way back in 1949. By the ’50s they had about 15,000 fighters but these different groups that were springing up in the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s had their private armies and typically the army would go in and engage them and they would have battles and things like that and- and the army would be pretty heavy-handed in its counterinsurgency. It wasn’t all heavy suppression but they did their best and they’ve been able to keep these movements at a minimum until the ’90s when Jemaah Islamiyah popped up. Jemaah Islamiyah was this Southeast Asian version – still is the Southeast Asian version – of Al-Qaeda. Its heyday was typically in the area in the time period between 9/11 and 2005. They engaged in scores of different types of bombings against tourist targets and government targets. In 2003 however the Indonesian government launched Detasemen 88 or Task Force 88. It is a crack counterterrorism squad. They don’t just specialize in door-kicking and hostage rescue and serving warrants and things like that. They’re also very good at surveillance and other types of police tactics to infiltrate society to try to pinpoint where those Islamist Jihadists are operating and [to] try to bring them to justice and put them in jail if they can because they also want to interrogate him. JI was reduced, not defeated by 2005 and there were scores of other splinter organizations that just popped up all over the place between then and now.
Phase 2: as these different terrorist splinter groups were trying to regenerate a JI-type movement in Indonesia, and they were not terribly successful, they staged attacks but they couldn’t make it grow properly. Islamism has gained a lot of traction in Indonesia. The Islamic Defenders Front is the Ikhwan or Muslim Brotherhood or less of Indonesia. [It’s] been around since ’98 but it’s become much more aggressive and engaged in some political violence as of late. These are all pictures of the FBI, the Islamic Defenders Front, in protests, very loud and rowdy protests in Indonesia. And if you’ll notice that they have uniforms and they have their own flags, but they’re also flying the ISIS flag. That’s quite brazen. When you pretend to be the Brotherhood etc., you can’t step out too far out. So you can’t color outside the lines too much. These people just don’t care. And they’re saying, ‘hey we’re allowed. We’re here. We’re Islamist jihadists and we’re ready to get it on’ and they are. There’s another area of Indonesia, Ache, up here in the left-hand corner where the red circle is. Aceh was given permission by the government in 2001 to have its own Sharia law. That’s become a little more harsh, a little more aggressive as well. And Aceh has provided the geographic location for a lot of terror plots that have been rolled up. They had a lot of… there were different groups that had training grounds there and those kinds of things and it’s caused a big problem for the rest of Indonesia.
Two other issues: data points that help illustrate the Islamist trend. In 2017: Jakarta’s Christian government, Ahok, Indonesians are typically known by one name, their first name. This man was beloved. He was very powerful. He was he was seen as an innovator and a passionate nationalist. He had insulted Islam according to the Islamists such as the Islamic Defenders Front and he was convicted. He’s doing two years in prison at the moment. More recently there was a 44 year-old Buddhist woman who complained that the minaret call to prayer outside her house was a little too loud. She got 18 months. Right? So it’s not just cells out there in the countryside running around with AK-47s and training with sticks, trying to put together some kind of ANFO bomb and stick it in a pickup truck and hit a hotel. This is actually spreading wider now and it looks like Islamism is providing some of the impetus for this. I don’t think you can separate Islamism and the Islamist Jihadists now in places like Indonesia and the Philippines and Malaysia.
Government response: you’ll never meet a more nationalistic group of people than the Indonesians. Their governmental theory it looks like it’s spelled ‘pan-ka-sila’ but it’s Pancasila. Basically it means that we are an archipelago nation of many different religions and many different races and languages but we’re all Indonesian. Indonesian law comes first. Indonesian nationalism comes first. We are all patriots. You’ve got to have God in your life but God in some faction of some religion is not going to rule Indonesia. The government is going to rule Indonesia. That in a nutshell and very layman’s terms is Pancasila. So they promote Pancasila. They have a lot of counterterrorism operations that are continually going against the remnants of Jemaah Islamiya etc. and there’s also this big political organization that claims to be 40 million strong, ulamas revival, which is a Muslim organization but they fight Islamism and Jihadism, right? So they have ratcheted up their operations as well. Most of the population rejects Islamist Jihad. You can go to Jakarta, you can see bands playing, you can have a beer, you can have a good time, you can go to Bali, which is mostly non-Muslim. Indonesia by the way if I didn’t mention it is the world’s most populous Muslim nation as well. That’s another reason that groups like ISIS and Jemaah Islamiyah have had to have wanted to insert themselves into this population and expand so this is Phase One and Two. Phase Three again, enter ISIS. [A] 2014 survey said ISIS had 2 million followers in Indonesia. The government has said that- the former head of the Armed Forces General Gatot said ISIS is in nearly every province. There is now an organization in Indonesia called “Community of the Unified State.” Basically that’s ‘ISIS in Indonesia’. That is the main terrorist organization there now and 24 other groups have pledged allegiance to ISIS. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re all working under the JAD umbrella but they have all pledged to ISIS; the brand, it sells. There been 20 attacks staged by these different groups since January 2016.
Similar to Malaysian concerns, the Indonesians have been pretty forthcoming about some of the things they’re worried about. Number one would be the third-generation threat otherwise known as the 400. There were 400 people who left Indonesia and went to Syria and Iraq to stage operations and to fight along with ISIS. They’re all coming home. They’re all coming home. Philippines has this problem also. A lot of countries in this area have this problem but Indonesia and the Philippines have it worse. This is 400 people who are- either they excel at organizing Islamist jihadist societies and making them function so ISIS just wasn’t about combat it was about setting up a mail service, [it] was about running hotels it was about having a justice system and all those kinds of things. So these people participated in that but they’re also bringing home kill skills. They’re bringing home bomb-making skills, raid, light infantry skills. So all the operations that the different groups in Indonesia have carried out and some of them have been clumsy. Now if they get this injection of the 400 it’s gonna be like steroids going into a weight lifter. They’re gonna get big and nasty and already very quickly. So that’s issue number one according to the Indonesian government. And- and they’re being very forthcoming about this as well.
Women and children bombers. This happened recently. May 28th: two families, men, women, [and] children, 13 suicide bombers, attacked three Catholic churches and a police station in Surabaya. They killed 15 and wounded 50. In one case a father had the bomb in a car and he attacked one church. In other cases whole families rode up on their motor scooters and blew themselves up, including women and a nine-year-old child. As bad as the violence has been in different parts of Southeast Asia they’ve never seen anything quite like this and this is very concerning to the government. So the government response in May 2018 and again they’re just on the cusp of starting to respond to these things so task force 88 is always out on the prowl looking for the Islamist Jihadists, looking for JIT etc. but they’re starting to change their laws. Now May 2018 they upgraded an existing counterterrorism law that allowed preemptive arrests, long detentions, and it made membership in any of these organizations illegal. So basically if you are breathing JAD or ISIS-type air they are going to find you and detain you. That is how concerned they are, number one. Number two, in July 2018 the Indonesian Court banned JAD. If you are communicating with JAD, if you are emailing them, texting them, hanging out with them in any way shape or form, they can and probably will detain you for whatever length of time they want until they think that the state is safe. So they are taking the threat very seriously. I also want to direct your attention to this text out of- this text message that went out in May of 2018. ISIS staged a prison riot. Some of the prisons in Indonesia are not very well organized and not not very well secured and they had been hotbeds of Islamist Jihadist preaching. So a lot of people will go into prison doing their time for some kind of crime or maybe an Islamist jihadist terrorist attack and they come out more radicalized and they ever were before. They also have de-radicalization programs but they maybe haven’t gone foreign enough. So anyway there was this prison riot in May 2018. ISIS was behind it. And it was put down by Task Force 88 but check out this app- this text, excuse me, that went out to the population writ large throughout Indonesia, “Support your cities, burn the assets of the non-believers, apostates. They’re hypocrites.” If you are a Muslim and you call somebody a hypocrite or munafiq, it is the worst insult you can pay anybody because it means essentially you are a pretend Muslim. You’re a fake Muslim. And that’s the worst thing you could ever be. You are now excommunicated from the Ummah, the Muslim community, and you’re set up for the kill. It’s legal to kill you know and that’s what they were doing here not just against Christians and Buddhists and Catholics etc. They’re talking about attacking other Muslims, burn the malls, destroy the economy of the non-believers ,withdraw your money etc., etc. That is not what a terrorist cell does. That is what an insurgency does. So again Phase 4: what are we looking at it looks like ISIS might be trying to expand into a real insurgency as opposed to just running spotty little terror cells here and there throughout the country. Obviously with the attacking of the churches and the discussion of attacking non-believers and hypocrites they’re trying to cleanse society. And again the trouble if- trouble spots are using women and children as as bombers as attackers, it’s pretty trouble[some].
One more country to go through… Philippines. We’re not going to spend a lot of time on the top part. Suffice to say there have been scores of insurgencies at work throughout the Philippines for decades and decades. Some of them are Islamist, some of them Islamist Jihad, excuse me, some are Communist and some are Islamist Jihadist and gangsters together, especially this Abu Sayyaf group. Al Qaeda has been here. JI is there in its- certain parts of the Philippines are one big insurgency mess so we’ll jump to Phase Two, enter ISIS. Before ISIS declared war on the Philippines in June 2017, before they started their operation in spring 2017 against the the town of Marawi once they were taking over, ISIS operatives were already planning attacks from the Philippines on the United States. They were planning attacks on the Philippines as well but also the United States. So it’s shades of the Bojinka plot in the 1990s etc. This man’s name was Russell Salik. He was a doctor. He still is. He got together with others and they were planning bombings and assassinations and raids in New York City. They said quote unquote “we want another 9/11” and Dr. Salik said in reference to the Paris attacks in fall 2015, “we just walk in with guns in our hands. That’s how the Paris guys did it. We can do it too.” That cell got rolled up but again this was before ISIS really took off like wildfire in the Philippines. And as operations were getting rolled up in the Middle East as ISIS’s Iraqi and Syrian battle space was shrinking, they started telling people “we know you want to come fight for us. That’s great, but we want you to stay in your home countries and stage attacks there or go to the Philippines.” They wrote articles about it. They sent out tons of tweets about it and they said it’s the East Asia wilayah or the East Asia ISIS province. It looks like what they were trying to do was ‘we’re losing in the Middle East so let’s just start over again in the Philippines’ in Southeast Asia, in particular, the Philippines.
Oh, at least twelve groups have declared allegiance to ISIS and the main one is Maute. That’s not pronounced ‘Mowt’. It’s Maute Group. and the Maute group was spearheading the battle for Marawi and this was not some small firefight. It went from May to almost to the end of October 2017. It was the biggest urban battle Southeast Asia had seen since the Vietnam War. Now the Philippine troops that went in and tried to take back Marawi from the insurgents, from the terrorists, initially tried to just kind of wait a lot of people out. But there were a lot of murders, a lot of executions, and they decided they had to go in. That was one phase of the operation. Another phase was they were trying to reduce the amount of heavy ordnance they used. They didn’t want to bomb the city into the oblivion. They didn’t want to get out with their machine guns and shoot up different buildings. They wanted the city to exist once the battle was done and that really didn’t happen. Ultimately, the house-to-house fighting was so bad they had to call in artillery, helicopter gunships, and they even had some jet aircraft putting tactical air support on certain buildings there. Marawi now is a shadow of its former self and the whole place needs to be rebuilt. 168 Armed Forces of the Philippines [were] killed most of those were Army troops, 1400 wounded just under a thousand ISIS killed, not many taken prisoner, twelve wounded. And the statistics on these these issues will change a little bit as we learn more about what happened in Marawi but those are their current statistics. 87 civilians killed seems a little low for the destruction. Go home, Google ‘Marawi Battle for’ and the city is just decimated. 1.1 million people displaced. So like what’s going on in the other Southeast Asian countries we’re on the cusp of a wave, which way does this wave break? The next is what? There have been three operations this summer that were announced. Three different terrorist operations that ISIS conducted post-Marawi. Most of them were small bombs etc. The government response is picking up. This means that they are sensing again not just cells but they are sensing a broader movement and they are asking every individual not just some people in the Philippines but every individual, every man, woman, old or young to be vigilant and report on anything suspicious you see because we need your eyes and ears out there. Again that’s not casually if you see something, say something or if you’re riding the trains in London, if you see a bag that’s left out, say something. Well that’s very important but here we have the Armed Forces of the Philippines folks forcing telling the whole country everybody ears up, eyes up, you gotta be on the lookout because these people mean business and just because we took Marawi back doesn’t mean the battle is over.
So Phase 3: what happens here because there are so many different insurgent groups in the Philippines and there are lots of unstable areas, it could mean that ISIS could come in and try to form its own insurgency and try to co-opt all those different groups. That is something that is in their playbook that would be number one. Number 2, Phase 3 could also be that they follow the Abu Sayyaf group model. And again the Abu Sayyaf group is part criminal because they kidnap people. They do a lot of smuggling. They do apparently a lot of drug smuggling and they do a lot of kidnap for ransom and they do cut a lot of people’s heads off. They’re a very nasty group but they also proclaim to be Islamist Jihadist but there’s only a couple of hundred of them. At one point they were down to about a hundred people now they might have about four hundred people. They’ve been around since 1991 and no government operation has been able to stamp them out. Why is that? Again they’re in a big area that is very jungle and mountainous like. They’ve got a lot of sanctuary and quite frankly they have the help and support of a lot of the people, a lot of the civilians in the area where they operate from. That is very difficult to knock out. So it could be that ISIS starts to follow the ASG model because they’ve got longevity, that works. They might be able to get in there and do that. Regardless they’re all going to try to take advantage of the existing insurgency environment. Will the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the National Moro Liberation Front side with the government and go against the Islamist Jihadists? We don’t know yet. Again we’re on the crest of a wave and it’s very hard to read the tea leaves here but one thing is for sure: ISIS is in Southeast Asia. It is there to stay. It is there to fight. And the governments are definitely stepping up. But all the all the strategic changes that we’re talking about here tonight they’re happening right now. It’s- is fascinating from a national security perspective but hopefully worse things don’t come of all this. Hopefully, governments are able to step up and really clamp down on this but we just don’t know.
So in summary… well, my summary is very small. It used to be big. I thought it was bigger. Big picture again: ISIS has surged into Southeast Asia. That’s very clear. And there’s a legacy issue for the United States. There are plots in Southeast Asia that have spilled over onto the United States. Geography: ISIS is engaged in regional operations not just little local operations. They’re interested in the whole enchilada. It’s very difficult for them to operate in places like Vietnam, probably not too easy for them to operate in Laos, but back in the post-9/11 period we had Al-Qaeda infiltrate into Cambodia so it’s possible that they could stage operations in some of these other places. Personnel: the big issues is again ISIS returning from the Middle East, coming home, bringing kill skills, and this mass of Rohingya refugees that are angry as can be. They’re displaced from their homeland, they’re not treated as citizens, they’re ripe for the picking for ISIS. Strategic shift: from terrorist cells to insurgency. It looks like we’re on the cusp of that. We can’t be sure but in the next six to eight months are going to be very telling. Tactically audaciousness: women, children used as bombers and then the NBC issue. Again the Malaysian government – they didn’t pull any punches on this. They said we’re worried about this. We’re worried about it happening here. We’re worried about it happening in Indonesia as well. So a mass casualty attack… all the governments here agree it could happen just about any time. Again to wrap it all up the governments are stepping up their operations. They’re doing the best they can. I think that if if the masterful again I can’t that word is is is very pertinent it’s a it’s very justified in this particular case. If Malaysia can keep up its counterterrorism techniques that they have been maintaining for several years now, they might be able to clamp down on this, but they’re gonna have to probably double their work force and double their efforts and I would say the same for the rest of Southeast Asia. Counter insurgency type solutions seem to be on the up and up. They’re putting a little more emphasis on fighting the ideology, which is excellent. They have to do that. Otherwise ISIS is just going to start cranking people out. That’s never gonna stop. We’ve been fighting these people since well in 9/11. And we haven’t really be able to crack this nut in Southeast Asia. You might see a lot of innovation in this regard I hope so and everybody’s worried about circumvention. It just takes one 9/11 style attack to happen in any of these countries and the world will change yet again, right? So with that I hope I didn’t burn your ears out. Lots of data, lots of data points. I hope I didn’t go too fast but again you don’t want me standing up here for a whole week.
Q&A Rough transcript:
Yes, in between a rock and a hard place. Yes. Yes to all of that. It’s always true so with we’ll take the tail end of that first. With Islamist jihadists you’re not supposed to bring any outsiders in to help with these problems so if you’re a Muslim and you’re running Indonesia and you need help from the Australians or you need help from the Americans regarding the best body armor to get or the best assault rifles to get or the best surveillance equipment to use you’re not supposed to do that anyway and so they’re always going to harangue these quote-unquote apostate governments for everything they do it’s just baked into the Islamist Jihadist movement so that’s just a given they’re gonna say that regardless that would be number one number two the United States and Australia and New Zealand and the UK and scores of other countries have been helping the Indonesians Philippines in the Thai for quite some time on this if these government’s want a lot of help and it’s justified under whatever administration you’ll see that help surge but they’re typically not going to write a whole bunch of articles on it and have a big ceremony in front of the White House and say we just gave task force 88 in Indonesia you know 80 million dollars worth of surveillance equipment they’re gonna they might publish a little bit on it but more or less it’s going to be a bit more quiet and in this hearkens all the way back to the Vietnam War during the Vietnam War there were Communist insurgencies all over Southeast Asia the U.S. had one track which was to have the U.S. Army the full might of the U.S. military going to Vietnam and take charge of that war there were U.S. military personnel who wanted to do that in Thailand because Thailand was having a big communist insurgency of its own and it was an ambassador and his name escapes me and then and I’ll remember in a minute he said you know what no but I don’t need that the time don’t want that they much more quiet small size footprint of U.S. forces and so you had Special Forces the Central Intelligence Agency and some other outfits go in and help them help themselves in an omission called fit a foreign internal defense and foreign internal defense is you know we’re pretty good at that and that’s probably the best track and so we’ve done FID in Southeast Asia and there was a lot of FID support during the operation to take back her walk a lot a lot and I think that you’ll see that continue and also on top of that you’re seeing a little more cooperation between the Southeast Asian governments no bigger and the press about nada this guy was Isis know he was an internet troll and that’ll go back and forth but when push comes to shove I know one particular tied general who’s been working with the Malaysians since he was lieutenant Carl and he knows the Special Branch folks in Malaysia and they worked very well together when when the environment is ideal for it yeah right right Southeast Asia is still an amazing place to invest it has some of the best tourist spots in the world Thailand is a world-class tourist destination it has been for decades they produce cars they have great big factories there’s wonderful economic activity in Southeast Asia which is another reason that all this is quite concerning you can still go on a wonderful vacation in Thailand right now and in fact if you’re building a hotel if you’re building hotels internationally if you don’t have one in Thailand you completely miss the boat you’ve got to be in the middle of that action again having said that the data points that we presented here are real and the question is will these operations in these hinterlands really spill over into their economies and tourist areas it’s a big big problem and the in this Southeast Asians do get together and meet on these things but the Thai have a saying I’ve interfaced a lot with the time there’s things you do but you never say and there’s things you say but you never do and if they’re fascinating people to work with so you’ll have a lot of behind the scenes cooperation with amongst the Southeast Asians and they’ll never talk about it they want things to remain covert as can be it’s not like the United States eat now where everything is broadcast they like to keep their cards close to their chests because they believe in the Sun Tzu even though Sun C was Chinese and the sons through dictum all warfare is based on deception and they are you give them a little room a little creativity they are masters at deception so while we’ve painted a picture here of ISIS surging in and being smart and rousing up these populations politically if you end up on the business end of these Southeast Asian governments and I mean the business end of a silenced pistol you’re in a lot of trouble if they find you and they know where you are you’re in big trouble they can be very good at what they do so just because Isis is surging in here doesn’t mean they’ve got a blank check and they will be cooperating they already are but that will increase yeah but that is not my specific area I know someone who’s Selena rely or elo who taught at national defense she’s the expert in that you might ping her on LinkedIn what I have in my research seen several different sources of income the Thai insurgents for example are engaged in a lot of weapons smuggling even away from their movement and a lot of drug smuggling that the drug drug smuggling in Southeast Asia is big big business and so is the illegal logging you might have some corrupt politicians or police or military in many countries in Southeast Asia allow illegal logging so that kind of thing helps up as well I know in southern Thailand and in the Philippines you’ve had the Islamist jihadist twist socket which is one of the five pillars of Islam charity and they will take as a cot funding and put it right back into Islamist jihadist organizations and in operations and there is funding coming in from the Middle East as well and they’ve got to dry that up but you know none of these operations would be able to take place without money and now you know we have to wonder is the Islamic Defenders Front and groups like that in Southeast Asia are they providing funding for Isis and JAD and if they are found doing that they’re gonna have a hard time with task force 88 and the rest of the Indonesian government because we’re coming to kind of a you’re either going to be this kind of country or that kind of country sort of situation seems to be building up will it actually come to that don’t know but in the next six eight months that’ll be very telling yes yeah so let’s go back to the map just for a minute excellent question I’m going to step away and point the mat just a little bit from the end of World War II well into the 80s and 90s some of the groups that were already here the catch in the Shan the law these boots were twenty thirty eighty thousand strong and they fought pitched battles against ethnic groups so you have in the middle of ethnic Burmese the people who live here are mostly mostly ethnic the chin now if you don’t know anything about Southeast Asia and you’re standing back looking at all these people they’re gonna look like Southeast Asians so the Burmese to the kitchen to the Shan to the law to the Koran they all they are all very different people and these different states have always wanted to maintain their unique identity and they didn’t necessarily want to come under the control of the central government the Burmese and the work on the road ended there are no different from any of these other groups that have been in revolt for decades right so from 47 to 2012 roughly there have been nine different Rohingya Muslim organizations that kind of revolted against the government and the same thing can be said right now there’s Shan State on the north of Shan State or meself the currents have subsided most of their operations over the north you’ve got the the ki a the Kachin Independence organization that’s the army if they use and then you have the perch in independence organization I think that’s what it’s called it’s more of a political group so this has been going on in Myanmar for decades that would be the big background hood number two in 2012 these communal violence battles that popped up were between these villagers and those villagers well the accusation was that a Muslim man raped a Buddhist woman and they had some simmering tensions anyway because quote-unquote those people are low he Mia and we are Buddhist and Myanmar is one of the strongest Buddhist countries in the world and they just went out and they they literally destroyed each other and there were nationalist organizations of buddhist that were also involved in this and it almost seems like and I can’t say this for sure but I’m just saying standing back looking at the forest from the trees it looked like there was a national movement or a wider movement to just try to go ahead and get as many Romanian Muslims out of a kind state as possible and they don’t have citizenship status anyway and again they call them big galleys which is a racial slur and whatnot and it’s just about supposedly that simple they are those people and their ethnicity and their religion we are these people are as an ethnicity our religion and the two just don’t get along and when they have a chance to really mix it up or they really go at it does that answer your question yes all right right all these wars these different wars between the genders Sean the Koran senator they made it all going on since the end of World War II. Yeah people have done masters theses and there’s lots of doctorates on that as well I can tell you that from my research for from my second book the Thai way of counterinsurgency in broad terms in the 1970s specifically in the late 70s Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini his brand of Muslim revolution started catching on all around the world and it had a particular impact in Malaysia and in southern Thailand and that’s just the Southeast Asian view but it was having an impact on the rest of the world as well and that is when the Saudis created a counter movement because they did not want the Shia brand of Islamic Revolution to become popular and used by the by the world especially by the moma the global community of Muslims writ large so they created a counter movement and start to spread it all over the world and that is one of the ways that Mohave Islam and by the way they don’t call it Lahab ism to them Allah hobs a man and if you use the term Wahhabism it’s an insult to film. They use a different term and I can’t remember the Arabic term no no it’s the English term for tis Unitarian they see themselves as a Unitarian movement in Islam and I’ll remember it blotting. I think it’s called the Mujahideen movement so that movement started to infiltrate the world and it made a splash in different parts of Southeast Asia what you can see in the I’ll get it right this time in Indonesia see you’re the one version of Islam predated the ayatollahs and predated the well they’ve had some of this fervor early on so it’s been there for a long time but it didn’t really catch wildfire until 1970 and again that this is the Saudi Arabians now are doing everything they can there are some to these governments to push back very hard against Islamic jihadism because they just can’t keep up with this ISIS monster and the ISIS monster has also brought in the Iranians into the Arabian Peninsula which is heresy they’re not just in Iraq they’re not just in Syria they’re in Yemen yeah so geographically Saudi is now surrounded surrounded by the water on the Iranian side but surrounded in land you know the Iranian agents of influence are all over the place and I think they’ve come to realize that the harder they hammer waha BISM the more it just stirs things up and it weakens the peninsula it weakens the Saudi base and it’s done them a major disservice and so they’re kind of backing off with that now but you know there’s people in southern Thailand that talk about oh yeah the Wahhabi movement it started coming in the 70s it wasn’t that popular but in the early to the late 1990s and the early 2000s it really started to creep it in fact okay we’re ready to roll we done run late okay no I was going to say in in Thailand if we could go here where our way the guide book fight for the liberation of hats I need was written two years before the revolt started and it was written by a Malaysian so you see a lot of carpet lane regarding ideology well before these fights ever start and take off and it’s done its purpose done on purpose it’s like a political campaign think of a presidential political campaign in America the last time he was just chaos that’s what’s going on with these movements it’s nonstop it’s literally a fight for the heart and soul of Southeast Asia.