News Roundup, Week of 19 March, 2021


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.


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


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.


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


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.


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


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.


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.


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


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)

News Roundup, Week of 12 February, 2021


Pakistani security agency successfully detained a Daesh member in Karachi and foiled his militant activities. The man, identified as Zakirullah @Shafiullah, was captured in a joint operation between the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) and the para-military force, Sindh Rangers, based on information obtained in Karachi. The security forces also found a grenade and a pistol amongst his possessions. Previously, Zakirullah was a member of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) but he later defected to join Daesh.  Zakirullah, who came from the Bajaur tribal district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province had received his training in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, two people died in Kabul when a series of explosive attacks targeting Kabul police resulted in the death of the district police chief, Mohammadzai Kochi and his close protective officer. An hour before Kochi was killed, two other explosions occurred, injuring four people followed by another explosion in another part of Kabul. The Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP) had claimed responsibility for the attacks. 


Twenty-six Syrian regime fighters including seven military officers were killed in an ambush by Daesh in Deir ez-Zor province. Eleven Daesh members were also killed during the clash. The attack had targeted a convoy that was transporting the regime fighters and military members for a counter-terrorism operation following a series of terrorist attacks in the area. Meanwhile, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic forces had announced their success in capturing two Daesh members this week. The capture was part of an ongoing effort by the US-led anti-Daesh coalition to combat a human-trafficking network at the Al-Hol refugee camp in Syria.

News Roundup, Week of 5 February, 2021

This week, it was revealed that the Indonesian authorities had detained a British woman who is on the terror watch list last year. Meanwhile, US-led air strike had killed a top Daesh leader in Kirkuk, Iraq. Separately, Daesh had attacked and killed government fighters along with their allied militia forces in Syria. Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab had attacked a hotel in Somalia and killed nine people.


Indonesian media revealed that the authorities had detained a 47-year old British woman identified as Tazneen Miriam Sailar (aka Aisyah Humaira, Ummu Yasmin) along with her 10-year old son for visa violations last year. The Manchester-born convert was also listed on the terrorism watch list, although she had not been charged with terrorism offences. Her late husband, Acep Ahmad Setiawan (aka Abu Ahmad al-Indunisy), was an Indonesian militant who perished in Syria. Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, the Jemaah Islamiyah’s (JI) spiritual leader, had officiated the couple’s marriage in 2010. Sailar had been involved in organising charities to raise funds for women and children in Syria. Sailar is currently being held in the immigration detention centre while waiting to be deported back to England.


A US-led air strike killed a Daesh senior leader, 43-year old Jabbar Salman Ali Farhan al-Issawi (aka Abu Yasser) in Kirkuk, Iraq. The operation, which was a joint military cooperation between the US and the Iraqi forces, also killed 10 other Daesh members. Iraqi officials described Al-Issawi, who hailed from Fallujah, as the deputy caliph for the Daesh network in Iraq. Experts believed that Al-Issawi’s death could be a significant blow to the group’s efforts to regroup. Al-Issawi was responsible for coordinating the group’s operations in Iraq. He also played a pivotal role in expanding the group’s presence in Iraq. He had developed and provided guidance to Daesh fighters.

Meanwhile, 19 Syrian regime personnel were killed, including 11 members of the Baqir Brigade, in a Daesh attack in Hama, Syria. Daesh militants had targeted the regime positions in the Fasidah area in Tuwaynan province in eastern Hama, an area known for frequent clashes between regime forces and jihadists. Russian forces are known to guard the checkpoints on occasions. The small Tuwaynan town is often targeted by Daesh for attacks. 


The Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab orchestrated an attack on the Hotel Afrik in Mogadishu, Somalia. A suicide bomber struck the hotel’s main entrance with a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED). Gunmen then stormed the hotel, exchanging fire with the hotel security personnel. The attack saw nine people dead and ten others injured. Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack in a brief statement on Andalus, the pro-Al-Shabaab radio station.

News Roundup, Week of 29 January, 2021

Philippines security forces continue to sustain pressure on militants in the Southern Philippines, while the Indonesian authorities enforce their preventive laws and made a series of arrests on suspected terrorists. The Turkish authorities also demonstrate their commitment targeting Daesh in the countries through ongoing counterterrorism operations.


Four Dawlah Islamiyah (DI) members were killed in the Barangay Basag area in South Cotabato, Mindanao in the Philippines. They were killed during a raid carried out by the Philippines security forces with the Philippines police. The joint security operation was organised to target DI’s senior member Russel Mamo who is still at large.

Meanwhile, in Indonesia, five terrorist suspects with links to the Jamaah Anshorut Daulah (JAD) were arrested by Densus 88 in separate locations in Kota Banda Aceh, Kota Langsa and Kabupaten Aceh Besar in Indonesia. They were arrested on the suspicion of plotting a terrorist bomb attack in Aceh. The police also confiscated chemicals for bomb-building, an arrow, a book on Hijrah, a notebook containing threats against the Indonesian National Army (TNI), the governor of Aceh and the government, a book on Daesh and a CD. All five men were also involved with the 2019 suicide attack at Kepolisian Resor Kota Besar (Polrestabes) in Medan, North Sumatra. They were also connected with the terror network in Riau.


Turkish authorities arrested six Daesh militant members during a counterterrorism operation targeting Daesh in Kastamonu, Turkey. The operation was launched since early January this year. Thirty-seven suspects were arrested in the previous week for providing financial support to Daesh in operations that were carried out simultaneously across southeast Gazientep. A couple of days later, 29 more people with suspected links to Daesh were also apprehended. Most of them were foreigners. The Turkish police’s greatest success up to this point was the arrest of the Emir of Turkey’s Daesh, Mahmut Özden last August.

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.