Feared terrorist organization Islamic State in Iraq and Syria makes no secret of its global reach.
The group has said it was behind the suicide bombing that killed 22 at a concert in Manchester in May and the Florida night club shooting that killed 49 in June last year, for example.
The same group, often abbreviated to ISIS, has been poking around for a stronghold in Asia outside the Middle East too, especially in countries with Muslim populations.
“ISIS has reared its ugly head in Asia in 2016 in a way that indicates it will be a persistent threat to regional security and stability in 2016 and going forward,” political risk consultancy Eurasia Group said in a report last year.
“Through ISIS’ creative use of the internet and social media, it (has) mobilized populations to conduct violence in Asia, with a number of attacks in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Bangladesh.”
Indeed, some of the emerging hot spots for ISIS outside of the Middle East are dotted around the Asia region. They’re mostly poor places with strong local Muslim populations, making it easy for ISIS to find sympathizers willing to take up its violent causes.
1. Thai-Malaysian border: In May, Malaysian police found an ISIS terrorist cell suspected of smuggling arms from Thailand to Malaysia, proving that the group has at least a toehold.
A Muslim-backed anti-government insurgency in southern Thailand killed more than 6,500 people and injured nearly 12,000 from 2004 to 2015, the Bangkok Post says.
That element makes the region a prime spot for ISIS to find recruits. Malaysia, known for moderate Islam of the type ISIS dislikes, was attacked a year ago with backing from the extremist group.
2. Sulu Sea, Philippines: ISIS is also finding recruits in Philippines, where largely impoverished Muslims make up a religious majority in some pockets of the majority Catholic country.
ISIS has named Isnilon Hapilon, a leader in the 26-year-old Abu Sayyaf kidnapping group based in the Philippine Sulu Sea islets, its “emir” for Southeast Asia, the policy nonprofit Counter Extremism Project says.
Government officials suspect ISIS recruits are helping another Philippine rebel group that troops have been fighting in the southern city Marawi since late May.
The Philippines is becoming the “most significant” spot for ISIS and its role in Marawi looms as a “threat to Asia,” says Rohan Gunaratna, security studies professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technology University in Singapore.
3. Dhaka, Bangladesh: Over the past three years multiple secular writers have been suddenly killed in the capital of this predominantly Islamic South Asian country of 150 million, followed by attacks in rural areas on university professors and other non-Muslims.
ISIS has claimed some of the attacks, though the Bangladesh government was denying through mid-2016 any actual presence of the group that organizes a lot of its attacks through local sympathizers.
ISIS claimed responsibility for a man who blew himself up at a checkpoint near the Dhaka international airport in March.
4. Rural Indonesia: ISIS “sleeper cells” occur in most of Indonesia’s provinces, according to reports by the Straits Times. “Sleeper” means they can be called to action as needed, and some are suspected of helping the rebels in the besieged Philippine city of Marawi.
The “threat from the militants” is “spread across predominantly Muslim Indonesia,” the Al Arabiya news website reports.
Another militant group, the East Indonesia Mujaheedin, recruits young people to its radical Islamic causes in Gunung Biru (which means “Blue Mountain”), a remote spot in the jungles of Sulawesi island, one of some 10,000 in the archipelago with about 260 million people.
The Mujaheedin has pledged support to ISIS and its late leader, Abu Wardah, was the country’s most wanted terrorist, according to the Jakarta Post. Indonesian police are effective at containing ISIS-sympathetic groups, Gunaratna says.
5. Rakhine State, Myanmar: The Islamic State sees this state near the loosely patrolled Bangladesh border as prime Asia turf because it’s already a conflict zone where ethnic Rohingya people, also Muslims, face persecution from the Myanmar government. Some recruits from Myanmar come from Bangladesh, Gunaratna says.
They can be taken to the Philippines for ISIS campaigns there, he adds. “ISIS is desperately trying to make inroads into that region with people of Bangladeshi origin,” he says. – Forbes
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