MUSLIMS from Southeast Asia who went to the Middle East to join the Islamic State (IS) remain a threat to the region especially now that activities of the terrorist group in Syria and Iraq are winding down, a former official of the Association of Southeast Asian Region (Asean) said Friday.
Ong Keng Yong, Singapore ambassador-at-large, said about 1,000 Muslims from Southeast Asia who went to fight with the IS are now on the move and are expected to either go to other parts of the Middle East or come back to their home countries.
“Therefore, we think that these returnees will contribute to the threat to Southeast Asia security if they go back to their home countries,” Ong said in a press conference in the sidelines of the Asean conference on peace and the prevention of violent extremism being held in Pasay City.
Ong, who is also the executive deputy chairman of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said based on their research, several Malaysians, Indonesians, Filipinos, and Singaporeans had joined IS forces in the Middle East.
“After spending those months and years with the Islamic State and its supporters the aim of course is to establish a wilayat (province) in Southeast Asia,” Ong said.
“So it is a significant threat to our regional security and it is even more important for all national authorities to take serious actions to deal with this,” he added.
Unlike in the past when it took a long time for any actions or statements to be transmitted in the region, he said, the use of social media and the internet made it easy for terrorists to spread their message in almost real time.
But technology has also helped authorities in monitoring terrorism movement.
According to Ong, through their research, they were able to follow some of the statements and pronouncements of extremists in social media and share it with government authorities.
“It is not just simple isolated incident in one part of particular country. There is an overall objective and everyone is committed to achieving this objective for Islamic state,” he added, referring to the activities of the extremists his team has monitored.
Ong said took positive note of how Asean ministers consider extremism as a serious threat to peace and security in the region.
National Security adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., for his part said, several actions have already been taken to address the threat, including intelligence sharing and intensified coordinated maritime patrols.