News Roundup, Week of 30 Apr, 2021

EUROPE

A senior Daesh military leader was detained on 28 April in Atasehir in Istanbul, Turkey. The suspect, codenamed Basim, is an Afghan national who was believed to be Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s right-hand man. He had entered Turkey while traveling on a fake passport and false identifications. Basim is suspected to be responsible for hiding key Daesh members in Idlib, Syria and training Daesh members in Iraq and Syria as well as serving on its decision-making council.

SOUTH ASIA

Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s security forces killed a senior member of the Taliban during a security operation in Kandahar, Afghanistan. The man who was identified as Mullah Mawlawi Ahmad Kandahari was killed by a drone during his return trip from Panjway, Afghanistan. Kandahari was considered to be the next most prominent commander after Mullah Akhtar Mansour. He was assigned to be the group’s military chief in Kandahar and was responsible for planning suicide attacks in southwest Afghanistan.

News Roundup, Week of 23 April, 2021

SOUTH ASIA

An Islamic State of the Khoradan Province (ISKP) commander known as Kamin @Hakimullah was killed during a raid carried out by the National Directorate of Security (NDS) special unit, Special Operations Forces (SOF). The raid was launched in the Kuz Kunar district in the eastern province of Nangarhar specifically to target Kamin based on intelligence. Kamin had attempted to flee the scene when he was shot dead by the SOF. Kamin was only recently elected as commander to lead the ISKP network in the Pachir Wa Agam and Haska Mina districts in the province.

Quarterly Report: Terrorism Events And Developments In The First Quarter Of 2021

This report examines the latest events and developments on terror-related incidents in Southeast Asia and key incidents worldwide from January through March 2021. Military forces in Iraq and Syria continue to engage in offensives against Daesh and Al-Qaeda (AQ), but Daesh shows no sign of waiving and demonstrates operational lethality through a renewed twin suicide attack in Baghdad. Meanwhile, in the Southern Philippines, government efforts in pursuing terrorist groups are still in full force. Militant members are continuously surrendering to the authorities as Philippine security forces continue to target them in a concerted counterterrorism effort. The latest attack in Makassar which occurred on Palm Sunday, bore the hallmarks of a Jamaah Anshorut Daulah (JAD) attack. This latest attack demonstrated JAD’s operational lethality and group resilience despite sustained counterterrorism pressure against them, indicating that they remain a persistent threat in the near future.   

News Roundup, Week of 26 March, 2021

NORTH AMERICA

Twenty-one year old Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa was arrested by the police for a shooting incident in Boulder, Colorado in the United States of America (USA). The suspect had attacked the King Soopers supermarket during lunch time with a pistol that was modified to resemble the AR-15 rifle. Ten people were killed during the attack, and two of them were identified as the store manager and a police officer.

News Roundup, Week of 19 March, 2021

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Five members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) had surrendered to the Philippines security forces in Ampatuan in Southern Mindanao. All of them were part of the Imam Minimbang @ Karialan cluster. They also surrendered their weapons, including three rifles, an M16, an M14 and an M79 rocket launcher.

NORTH AMERICA

Eight women were killed during a shooting incident in Woodstock, Georgia in the United States (US). The 21-year old suspect, Robert Aaron Long, was arrested by the police for the shooting. long had attacked three beauty spas in three separate locations in Atlanta with a 9mm which he had purchased with licence at a local gun shop. Six of the victims killed were Asian.

News Roundup, Week of 12 March, 2021

SOUTH ASIA

Four Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan members were killed during security operations initiated by the Pakistani security forces. The operations were launched separately in Datakhel, North Waziristan and Zoida, South Waziristan. Three of them were identified as Abdul Adam Zeb @ Dung, Molvi Mehboob @ Molvi and Mir Salam @ Anas.

MIDDLE EAST

Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service (ICTS) captured six Daesh militant members in two Iraqi provinces and Sulaimani province in Kurdistan region. Two of them who were wanted by the authorities were arrested in Sulaimani province, while another was arrested in Mansour district in Baghdad. The remaining three were detained in Anbar.

News Roundup, Week of 5 March, 2021

SOUTHEAST ASIA

This week, Densus 88 arrested 12 terrorist suspects with links to Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) during a raid in Surabaya, Sidoarja, Mojokerto and Malang in East Java, Indonesia. The police also seized several arrows and self-defence equipment including a samurai sword and boxing equipment. A few days later, Densus 88 successfully arrested a man identified only as N on the suspicion of being involved in terrorist activities.

Meanwhile, four members of the Bangsamoro Islam Freedom Fighters (BIFF) had clashed with the Philippines security forces in Maguindanao in the Southern Mindanao. Four BIFF members were killed while two others were injured during this incident.

SOUTH ASIA

A Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) commander, Nooristan @ Hasan Baba, were killed during a security operation in Waziristan, Pakistan. Two other TTP members identified as Wilayat Zaib and Shah Mahmood were also killed in the operation.

News Roundup, Week of 26 February, 2021

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Nine women believed to be part of Abu Sayyaf Group’s (ASG) network were captured by the Philippine police and security forces in Sulu in the Southern Philippines. Three of these suspects, identified as 36-year old Isara Jalmaani Abduhajan, Jedah Abduhajan Amin (28) and Elena Tasum Sawadjaan Abun (40), are daughters of ASG leader, Hatib Hadjan Sawadjaan. During the raid, the security forces found several improvised explosive device (IED) components along with battery, pipe, nails, blasting caps and ammonium nitrate. The women were arrested on the suspicion of plotting suicide bomb attacks. They were believed to have undergone orientation and learned to make explosives.

MIDDLE EAST

A clash between Iraqi special forces with Daesh network took place in Tarmiyah in the north of Baghdad, Iraq. Five Daesh members and two members of the special forces were killed during the skirmish.

EUROPE

Two terrorist suspects were arrested in Ankara, Turkey. One of the suspects was allegedly a member of Al-Shabaab with dual German-Italian citizenship and was believed to have operated in Kenya.

News Roundup, Week of 19 February, 2021

SOUTH ASIA

Afghanistan media revealed that 65-year old Taliban leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, was actually killed in April last year. Akhundzada was allegedly killed along with Taliban’s spy chief, Mullah Matiullah, and Taliban’s moneyman, Hafiz Abdul Majeed, in an explosion at a Taliban safe house owned by Majeed in Quetta, Pakistan. Several other senior Taliban members were also killed in the explosion. However, Taliban’s senior member, Ahmadullah Wasiq, denied the report and insisted that Akhudzada is still alive.

Photo by mostafa meraji on Unsplash

Counter-Narratives: Techniques and Best Practices

Lift your heads up high. You now have a state and a caliphate that restores your honor, your might, your rights and your sovereignty. The state forms a tie of brotherhood between Arab and non-Arab, white and black, Easterner and Westerner. The caliphate brings together the Caucasian, Indian, Chinese, Shami, Iraqi, Yemeni, Egyptian, North African, American, French, German and Australian…. They are all in the same trench, defending each other, protecting each other and sacrificing for one another. Their blood mingles together under one flag [with] one goal and in one camp… perform hijra from darul-kufr to darul Islam. There are homes here for you and your families. You can be a major contributor towards the liberation of Makkah, Madinah, and al-Quds. Would you not like to reach Judgment Day with these grand deeds… A life of jihad is impossible until you pack your belongings and move to the caliphate.[1]

Why did so many Southeast Asian Muslims leave their countries to join Daesh in Syria and Iraq? To answer this question, it is necessary to understand the conceptual importance and historical significance of hijra (pilgrimage) in Islam. Hijra refers to the flight of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and his followers from Mecca to Yathrib (Medina) in 622 CE to escape religious persecution by the Meccans. This event also marked the beginning of the Muslim era – year 1 of the Hijri lunar calendar. On this day, Muslims around the world celebrate Awal Muharram, whichsignifies the first day on the Muslim calendar to remember the Prophet Muhammad (SAW)’s migration.

The terrorist group known as Daesh, or the Islamic State, saw this Islamic chronicle as a convenient opportunity to augment their state-building enterprise. Daesh weaved themselves into the narrative by promoting the concept of hijra to Iraq and Syria (al-Sham) to sugar-coat their so-called Caliphate as a legitimate substitute for Mecca. This was by no means a valid religious obligation, but in fact an effort on their part to recruit foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) and replenish their ranks. Further examination of their propaganda identified eight core messages in their narratives on hijra to their Caliphate. They were:

  • Calls to hijra,
  • Significance and legitimacy of hijra,
  • Promises of rewards achieved from hijra,
  • Punishments for not performing hijra,
  • Exemplary behaviour in relation to hijra,
  • Women’s role within the context of hijra,
  • Alternatives to and variations of hijra, and
  • Hijra as atonement for one’s sins.

These eight attributes highlighted how these messages resonated strongly with the targeted Muslim audience. For Muslim individuals who are anxious about becoming better Muslims by looking for ways to absolve their sins, they might have found Daesh’s promises of the great Caliphate appealing. For Muslims seeking a more meaningful existence in life, Daesh’s offer of adventurism within the Caliphate struck a chord with them. Moreover, Daesh effortlessly milked identity politics to promote the idea that it is impossible for both Muslims and non-Muslims to co-exist, and the Caliphate was the ideal alternative that Daesh could offer. Daesh had capitalised on the wars that the West had waged in Iraq and Afghanistan in their Great War on Terror (GWOT) campaign by fanning grievances and exploiting the sense of injustice felt by Muslims because of them.

In 2008, while Daesh was still going by the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) and had been driven out of Baghdad by US troops, another dramatic exigency was unfolding across the globe. The excessive lending by banks triggered the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) in 2008, which saw the economy of the United States and Western Europe collapsed. As the recession emerged in Wall Street, its tidal waves swept across the world and struck the Southeast Asian economies through trade and financial channels, sending their exports and stock prices tumbling. As incomes fell, a new class of working poor started to surface as the retrenchments caused the job market to shift from formal steady occupation to informal and vulnerable employment in 2009. By the time ISI proclaimed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the leader of ISI in 2010, the gig economy was introduced for the first time through the launch of the shared ride company, Über.

With the rising unemployment in the region, increasing sense of marginalisation and discrimination, growing frustration with the systemic corruption, and soaring desperation to survive, this injustice felt even more profound. Over the years, Daesh’s media organ intensified their propaganda effort to give off the illusion that there were better and greater opportunities within Iraq and Syria. Their messaging campaign was very appealing to the young Southeast Asian Muslims who were struggling to find new opportunities. The dream of starting a new life where one could feel wanted with a sense of belonging was irresistible. On average, young Muslims who were raised in strict and conservative households were found to be more susceptible to Daesh’s promise of Elysium, as their desire to rebel was more profound. As of December 2015, approximately 30,000 foreign terrorist fighters from 85 countries had arrived in Iraq and Syria. Even though they were confronted with evidence of a brutal life under Daesh’s governance, which was fraught with injustice, barbarity, and totalitarianism, they could not be convinced otherwise. Daesh had successfully created a powerful fantasy that had largely gone unchallenged for too long. This was a damning indictment upon most governments in this region as well as within civil society for their inaction.

The need to create strong and effective counter-narratives has never been more urgent. Policymakers need to understand how important it is to take control of existing narratives to push out the message that life outside of Daesh’s brutish authoritarianism is both possible and better. It is important to promote the idea that Muslims can and should co-exist with non-Muslims. It is also equally important to emphasise that Islamic values are equally compatible with other values. Policymakers should recognise that it is crucial to nurture the message that living in a multicultural society where different people of different ethnicities and nationalities is an incredible and meaningful experience. This is more empowering and resilient than Daesh’s divisive ideology of fascism and nihilism.

The concept of creating counter-narratives in order to push back against extremist recruitment and propaganda has become well-established in recent years. However, in practice, it has proven to be difficult to curate this in a systematic way in order to target the demographics who are at risk. Most importantly, to be able to measure the impact of the counter-narrative against their behaviour to analyse the results to explain and understand the FTF phenomenon. The following techniques and best practices can be adopted based on different scenario and country:

  • Narratives are effective tools. Terrorist groups are adept at using narratives in their communications both to mobilise support and to delegitimise governments. It is vital to understand how narratives are utilised in order to counter them. Terrorists exploit both online and traditional media, but both media may also be important partners for countering violent extremism effort.
  • Targeting the right audience. Prevention of radicalisation is likely to be a more productive approach than attempting to deradicalise those who have already joined terrorist organisations. In particular, the key target audience for counter-narrative efforts should be the so-called fence sitters, individuals who are showing an active interest in extremism (or are being targeted by recruiters) but who are still undecided and have yet to mobilise.
  • Simplicity of messaging. Terrorist narratives tend to convey simple, yet powerful messages. Tailored to their target audience, these messages are often visually, intellectually or emotionally stimulating. Counter-narrative efforts must use similar techniques to be equally effective.
  • The importance of non-governmental partners. Regardless of the method of delivery (on- or off-line, direct or indirect) non-governmental partners have a crucial role to play. Key partners may include a variety of NGOs, charities, faith institutions, local networks, community leaders and individual citizens as well as the private sector. Governments must seek to build trust, engage with, empower, and facilitate the actions of these key partners, without destroying their credibility as influential messengers. It was also recognised that a hard counterterrorism (CT) approach may sometimes undermine these relationships, meaning that special care must be taken to maintain them.
  • Timing is everything. Counter-narrative efforts must be timely, dynamic and flexible to respond to rapid changes in the environment. This is a particular challenge for government bureaucracies.
  • Measuring impact. Online platforms in particular provide some readily available measurements such as number of visits or page views, likes, shares, discoverability in search engines, global reach and comments. However, as important as such measures are, they are relatively superficial. It is essential to try to measure the impact of counter-narratives among the target audience in as much detail as possible in order to identify best practices.

Since counter-narratives are only effective as the first line of defence, it is even more necessary to develop credible alternative narratives – narratives that can give a new sense of purpose, meaning and hope to those who feel that they have no future in the society. Those in the positions of authority have to show them that we are not living in blocked societies where desired changes can only be achieved through violence. Policymakers have to listen not only to the grievances of young people but also address their hopes and their expectations for the future. They must be able to empower young people to actively shape their own future in pluralistic and open societies. It is imperative to show that terrorism is futile in the wake of the destruction it causes because it could never achieve concession, and therefore must be unequivocally rejected.


[1] K. Leggiero, “Countering ISIS Recruitment in Western Nations”, Journal of Political Risk 3, No. 1 (January 2015)