JIHADISTS who left Southeast Asia to fight with the Islamic State may come back in numbers if the crisis in Marawi City continues, a national security expert warned on Thursday.
Shashi Jayakumar, Senior Fellow and Head of Center of Excellence for National Security at Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said that while it is difficult for terrorists to return to the region, the possibility remains.
Jakumar said the conflict in Marawi may attract jihadists to return to Southeast Asia.
He explained that if the conflict plays out in a bloody way, it would serve as a “magnet” for jihadists. Jayakumar was one of the speakers at the “Asean at Fifty: The Way Forward” forum organized by the Carlos Romulo Foundation, and Stratbase Albert Del Rosario Institute (ADRi).
If that happened, he said, it would really have an effect on the security in the region.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) has yet to clear Marawi city of members of Islamic State-linked Maute Group that attacked the city in May.
The siege prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to place the entire Mindanao under martial law.
The military had said that some foreign terrorists were fighting alongside Maute members.
Jayakumar said dealing with terrorists has become more problematic because there seemed to be no pattern in carrying out terror activities.
According to him, terrorists no longer come from organized groups.
“So the pattern is that there is no pattern and this is problematic because in Singapore we are used in dealing with organized groups then suddenly you find this kind of threat,” he said.
Another concern is the capability of terror groups to carry out attacks without sending fighters to the target country.
He said citizens of the country are being “radicalized” through the use of technology including social media.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Thursday said it is bracing for “sympathy attacks” in Mindanao from supporters of the Islamic State-linked Maute Group.
“It is not far from happening if the relatives, supporters and sympathizers would seek revenge because of our clearing operations, it might come, they might start [another war]in Marawi,” AFP public affairs chief Col. Edgard Arevalo told reporters.
President Rodrigo Duterte earlier informed senators that there were bigger security threats in Mindanao, thus the need to boost the number of soldiers and policemen by 30,000.
Arevalo said the President “could have had access” to information on possible sympathy attacks.
“We don’t want to mention specifics because even the President did not mention any specific places but what we can tell you is (it’s) just in Mindanao because since the beginning, we saw that there was a big threat in that island,” Arevalo said.
“There have been many instances in the past that we saw actual terror attacks in Mindanao so what we can just say is that this is an information that we cannot debunk. That is why we have taken all necessary efforts,” he added.
Arevalo said the threats in Mindanao will not affect the reconstruction and rebuilding of Marawi City.
At least 513 terrorists have been killed in Marawi. More than two months of fighting also claimed the lives of 116 state troops and 45 civilians.
With Dempsey Reyes