South-East Asia under terror threat – Regional

MANILA: The terrorist network battling Philippine forces in Marawi may be prepping militants for similar attacks in Singapore and in East Asia, said a report.

The network, run by Bahrumsyah, a young Indonesian fighter in Syria, and Malaysian former university lecturer Dr Mahmud Ahmad, recruited fighters and carried out an audacious bid by the Islamic State (IS) to seize Marawi.

“The Marawi operations received direct funding from IS central and reveal a chain of command that runs from Syria through the Philippines to Indonesia and beyond,” the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) said in its report yesterday.

Hundreds of gunmen from two groups linked to IS stormed Marawi, a mainly Muslim city in southern Philippines, on May 23.

They seized large parts of the city, forced the evacuation of its entire population, and fought an army brigade that resulted in a stalemate now into its ninth week.

The militants used tactics in urban warfare which they picked up from veteran fighters who have returned from the Middle East.

Nearly 100 soldiers and police officers have died, and half of Marawi now lies in ruins.

Over 400 militants have been killed, but Marawi “has lifted the prestige of Philippine fighters in the eyes of ISIS central” and “inspired young extremists from around the region to want to join”, the Jakarta-based IPAC said in its report.

It warned that the Marawi conflict could lead to a “higher risk of violent attacks” in other Philippine cities and in Indonesia and Malaysia.

One posting on the Russian-developed social media app Telegram urged militants to also attack targets in Singapore, Thailand, Myanmar, South Korea, Japan and China.

“It is our duty to stand up against them and to bring syariah in place of the laws that these territories have. Their leaders are all anti-Muslim symbols,” it said, claiming the order came from Bahrumsyah, head of an IS combat unit in Syria consisting mostly of fighters from South-East Asia; and Mahmud, who is said to be providing ideological guidance to all militants now fighting in the war-torn southern Philippine island of Mindanao.

Bahrumsyah organised the first pro-IS rally in Indonesia in March 2014, and left for Syria two months later. He became head of Katibah Nusantra, the South-East Asian unit of IS, that same year.

Mahmud, also known as Abu Handzalah, underwent training at an al-Qaeda camp in the late 1990s. He fled to Mindanao in 2015, after he was exposed to have recruited Malaysians to fight with IS and pushed to unite terror cells in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.

IPAC said Bahrumsyah and Mahmud arranged funding and recruited fighters for Marawi.

From January to March 2017, Mahmud received at least US$55,000 (RM236,500) that was apparently sent by Bahrumsyah from the Middle East to Indonesia, and later wired to the Philippines using Western Union.

Bahrumsyah had another courier send an unspecified amount from Indonesia.

Philippine security officials said IS might have channelled as much as US$600,000 (RM2.58mil) to Mahmud. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network

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