Indonesia and Malaysia are no strangers to radical Islam, but ISIS recruiting in southeast Asia has caused a growing concern about the threat of terrorism in the region.
ISIS currently is fighting for an Islamic caliphate in Iraq and Syria but has plans for “global domination,” according to the Daily Mail. At the beginning of Ramadan, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, called for Muslims everywhere to support the group’s plan to impose Shariah law in all the territory it controls. In July, Christians were forced to flee Mosul, Iraq, after ISIS gave them 24 hours to leave or be killed. Fleeing Christians said ISIS fighters seized all their money and possessions at checkpoints.
Sooyoung Kim of International Christian Concern (ICC) said there has been an increased fervor for ISIS among Indonesian and Malaysian Islamic extremists in recent months. ISIS has had influence within the region at least since 2013.
In Indonesia, it is not illegal to fund or join jihads in other countries, so ISIS is recruiting openly there, Kim said. The group’s propaganda was widely available and could be found in mosques, but more moderate imams and the Indonesian government have tried to discourage people from joining ISIS because they consider the group too extreme, Kim said.
Many have pledged their support for ISIS, which is also known as ISIL or the Islamic State. Asia News reported in July that about 1,000 ISIS supporters organized a “mass initiation” ceremony in Solo Baru, Indonesia. At least 30 Indonesians reportedly have gone to fight with ISIS, and 56 others have applied for Syrian visas. Jailed Indonesian Muslim extremist Abu Bakar Baasyir recently took an oath of allegiance to ISIS while in a maximum security prison, according to Asia News.
Indonesia has the highest per capita Muslim population in the world at 88 percent but recognizes four other religions and has constitutional protections for freedom of worship. The Indonesian government now sees the ISIS influence as a threat to religious diversity and is taking action, banning YouTube endorsements of the group.
“The government rejects and bans the teachings of ISIS … from growing in Indonesia,” Political, Legal, and Security Affairs Minister Djoko Suyanto said. “It is not in line with state ideology, Pancasila, or the philosophy of kebhinekaan [diversity] under the unitary state of the Republic of Indonesia.”
Malaysian officials also are concerned about terror threats stemming from ISIS influence.
“Some Malaysians who may have been in contact with some of these people get motivated to participate,” Malaysian Deputy Home Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar told Reuters in June. “We have been arresting a lot of militants within the country.”
Terrorist threats in Southeast Asia have increased, according to Asia News, which said Malaysian authorities arrested at least 19 suspects for links with extremist groups in the past seven months.
Kim said officials in those countries fear jihadists will return to their home countries with training and connections. She said there is also concern that Brunei, which recently imposed Shariah law, could be used to encourage the spread of Islamic radicalism.