The Islamic State sees rise in Southeast Asia


JAKARTA, Indonesia: Emilia Az opens a folder on her Blackberry labeled “Wahhabis” and flicks through her recent messages. One is a cartoon depiction of an Arab fighter holding a necklace lined with severed heads. Another is a masked Indonesian man holding aloft the Islamic State flag.

“I get text messages like these all the time now. They have said they know where I live, that I will be killed. They said, ‘If you don’t turn to Sunni, back to the real path of Islam, we will behead you’,” Emilia said.

“Sometimes they throw stones at my house. Once I had a dog, a great dane, and they killed him with a big stone, like they wanted to show me that, ‘I know your house, and we are here’,” she added.

As a Shia Muslim, and a representative for an Indonesian interfaith organization supporting the rights of religious minorities, Emilia is a visible target for hardline elements of the Sunni majority in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

The threats against her have so far proved empty, and she’s used to the abuse. But as the Islamic State group (IS) has gained international media attention, the messages she receives have increasingly adopted the sinister imagery of the conflict unfolding in Iraq and Syria.

As many as 200 Indonesian jihadists are believed to have traveled to fight with IS, and Indonesia’s counter-terrorist forces are concerned that those returning could be emboldened to carry out acts of terrorism on home soil.

Pledging allegiance
Abu Bakar Bashir, the imprisoned leader of Jemaah Islamayah (JI), the al-Qaeda-affiliated organization responsible for the 2002 Bali bombing, pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State group from his jail cell last month.

Security was stepped up last week in central Java at Borobodur, the world’s largest Buddhist temple, following an apparent bomb threat by IS-affiliated Islamists against the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Orga-nization World Heritage site.

In July, hardliners gathered outside a mosque in Solo, central Java, to publicly pledge allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Similar gatherings have been reported in Bima, West Nusa Tengarra, and in Jakarta, the capital.

Concerns over resurgent violence are not confined to Indonesia.

Malaysian authorities on August 13 announced the arrest of 19 people who had allegedly planned to travel to Syria to fight alongside IS. The group is also alleged to have planned to bomb a Carlsberg brewery and bars on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. So far about 100 Malaysian fighters are believed to have traveled to the Middle East join the group.

Police authorities last week said at least three Malaysian women have traveled to the self-declared Islamic State to serve as “comfort women,” in a phenomenon described as “jihad al-nikah,” or sexual jihad.

In Indonesia, crack anti-terrorist units—trained and funded by the United States and Australia—have, over the past decade, largely eradicated JI’s terrorist network. In the short term, concerns for a large-scale terrorist attack on the archipelago seem premature. But the efficacy of IS’ propaganda, mobilized by social media, has provided a cause around which Indonesia’s hardline elements may rally.

The Sunnah Defence League (SDL), an umbrella organization for Indonesia’s ultra-conservative Muslim factions, has for years demonstrated against practices it deems un-Islamic, from the hosting of the Miss World contest in Bogor last year, to the practicing of other faiths and non-Sunni interpretations of Islam.

Hardline subsects of the SDL – such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI)—enforce what they see as a form of vigilante justice: smashing up bars and nightclubs, and forcing the closure of churches and mosques of alternative faiths.

FPI spokesman Munarman, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, refused to comment on the organization’s stance on the Islamic State group when contacted by Al Jazeera, deciding mid-conversation that he was no longer the FPI spokesman.



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