News Roundup, Week of 22 January, 2021

This week saw a shocking twin suicide bombing attacks in central Baghdad, Iraq, which may signal the potential return of Daesh. Meanwhile, Malaysia saw a drop in terrorism-related activities due to the nationwide Covid-19 Controlled Movement Order (MCO). An arrested terrorist suspect in the Philippines claimed that she was pressured by her parents to commit violence. The Maute Group continued to target security forces out in the Southern Mindanao.


The Counterterrorism Division of the Royal Malaysian Police’s Special Branch revealed that they made a total of seven arrests in 2020 on individuals suspected to have links with terrorism activities, including Daesh. This was a drastic reduction in arrests when compared to the previous years, where 83 and 72 arrests were made in 2018 and 2019 respectively. The drop in arrests was largely due to the Movement Control Order (MCO) that was introduced last March as a national lockdown response to manage the Covid-19 pandemic. The MCO had limited people’s movements, which led to a decline in terrorism-related activities.

Meanwhile, in Washington DC, the United States military prosecutors finally filed charges in a military tribunal against members of the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), Riduan ISamuddin (aka Hambali) along with two other Malaysians who aided him, Mohammed Nazir Lep and Mohammed Farik Amin. The three men are faced with various serious charges, including conspiracy, murder, attempted murder, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, terrorism, attacking civilians, attacking civilian objects, destruction of property, and accessory after the fact, all in violation of the law of war. They were captured in Thailand in 2003, and are currently being held in the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. At present, it is estimated that there are 40 Malaysian prisoners in Guantanamo.

In the Philippines, Rezky Fantasya Rullie (aka Cici and Nini Isaran) admitted that her involvement in terrorism activities was due to parental pressure. Her parents, Rullie Rian Zeke and Umi (aka Ulfah Andayani Saleh) were suicide bombers who were responsible for the 2019 attack on the Our Lady of Mont Carment Church in Jolo. Cici was also the wife to the Indonesian terrorist and facilitator, Andi Baso, who played a key role in transporting her along with her family to Jolo. Cici was arrested in October 2020 for plotting a suicide attack in Jolo. Cici’s case highlighted a worrying trend of family pressure in committing acts of terror.

Meanwhile, three members of the Philippine security forces were killed by the Maute group in Poona Piagapo, Lanao del Norte in the Southern Mindanao. The three men were on their way to the market in Baloi on motorcycles when they were ambushed by the Maute. This incident highlighted the group’s potential threat in the Lanao del Norte area, despite being reduced to less than 50 members.


Two Daesh members launched a twin suicide bombing attack in a busy commercial district in central Baghdad, Iraq. The attack killed 32 people and injured 110 others. The attack targeted a market in the central Tayanan Square, Baghdad. The first attack occurred when the attacker entered the market and feigned a stomach pain to draw in the crowd before detonating his explosives. Following this, the second attacker pretended he was injured from the explosion and triggered his explosives when a concerned crowd of people clustered around him. Daesh released a statement to claim both attacks. This was the worst Daesh-related attack in Baghdad since the group’s 2017 territorial defeat in Iraq. The incident demonstrated the group’s operational capabilities in regrouping to launch attacks in a major city once again. Prior to this, Daesh was only capable of provoking pockets of violence around the city edges, checkpoint areas and remote infrastructures in the desert and mountain areas, particularly in Northern Iraq.

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