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Isis' South-east Asia arm poses major threat to Singapore

This article is more than 12 months old

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is fast becoming a threat in South-east Asia - as the group seeks to actively recruit from the region.

A group called Katibah Nusantara was formed in August last year. It is a dedicated fighting force set up specifically to target and recruit South-east Asian fighters, said Professor Rohan Gunaratna head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS).

Their headquarters is in Al-Shadadi, which is in the Syrian province of Hasaka.

How are they targeting South-east Asians?

The main languages used are Bahasa Indonesia and Malay - for fighters who find Arabic a language too difficult to use, reported The Jakarta Post.

The group is also making inroads on the battlefield. Last month, Katibah Nusantara scored a major coup by capturing five Kurdish-held territories in Syria, reported The Straits Times.

This "achievement" was publicised in Malay and Bahasa Indonesia languages on their social media accounts. And experts have pointed out that this is a ploy to recruit fighters from the region, said Mr Jasminder Singh, a research analyst with the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at RSIS.

How does their growing popularity affect Singapore?

The growing size of Katibah Nusantara could also mean that more attacks would be planned here - and they would soon become a priority for ISIS.

Just this week, Singapore has been cited as a possible target for attack in ISIS' social media posts.

On Wednesday, Singapore's Home Affairs Ministry announced that two youths were arrested under the Internal Security Act for terrorism-related activities.

A 19-year-old M Arifil Azim Putra Norja'i planned to join ISIS. He had planned attacks here. 

Another unnamed 17-year-old was also arrested after investigations showed that he had been radicalised to a large extent.

How big is Katibah Nusantara?

The group currently boasts more than 700 and 200 fighters from Indonesia and Malaysia respectively, and also a small number from the Philippines, The Straits Times reported.

Analyst Robi Sugara of the Barometer Institute said in September last year: "This group was formed with a goal to recruit and facilitate people who want to go to Syria to defend the Islamic caliphate, and also do counter-attacks against governments that repress caliphate supporters."

Highly organised group

Katibah Nusantara is believed to be headed by Abu Ibrahim al-Indunisiy, who is said to be an Indonesian. 

The unit also assists families in Indonesia and Malaysia whose relatives are in Iraq and Syria, including those who have died fighting.

Those who have lost their spouses in combat will go through religious classes to ensure they continue fighting for the cause.

Mr Singh said that these classes also "prevents disillusionment or retreat from the combat zone, especially in the face of Western coalition attacks."

He added: "It also performs the task of recruiting new fighters by providing a more conducive environment or fellowship, providing the pull factor for those intent on supporting ISIS."

Sources: Jakarta Post, The Straits Times, The Star Online, RSIS, Malaysia Insider

ISISUncategorisedterrorismSoutheast AsiaSingapore