Quarterly Report: Terrorism Events And Developments In The Third Quarter of 2021

The third quarter of Terrorism Watch 2021 examines the latest events and developments on terror-related incidents in Southeast Asia and key incidents worldwide from July through September 2021. The Taliban’s swift takeover of Afghanistan may allow global Islamist terrorist groups, particularly Al Qaeda, to flourish once more. According to recent events, Daesh and Al Qaeda may compete in terms of recruiting new adherents, getting financial backing, and spreading propaganda. In the Southern Philippines, the Focused Military Operation (FMO) has been successful in thwarting terrorist activities conducted by Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), Dawlah Islamiyah (DI) and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), resulting in the continued capture and surrender of their members to the authorities. Likewise, more than 50 people have been arrested in Indonesia for ties to Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) and Mujahidin Indonesia Timur (MIT). Some of them are suspected of planning strikes for 17 August 2021, Indonesia’s Independence Day. In August 2021, the Royal Malaysian Police (RMP) captured 12 Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) members in Beaufort, Sabah, and killed another two members of the group.  They planned to kidnap two oil palm plantation owners in Sandakan and Sukau for ransom to fund the ASG – Sulu base at Sulu, Southern Philippines.

Global Trend

As Daesh’s influence in Iraq and Syria has waned, attention has switched to other countries of the world, most notably Afghanistan. The Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP) has positioned itself as the Iraq and Syrian equivalent of Daesh. The re-emergence of Taliban control in Afghanistan posed a threat to ISKP’s efforts. The Taliban’s dominance of Afghanistan has generated a new security issue and dynamic throughout the region of Southern Asia.

The first sign of antagonism between these actors came on 26 August 2021, when ISKP carried out twin bombings at Kabul airport, killing more than 180 people. In Southeast Asia, pro-Daesh groups continue to engage in violent activities in order to preserve their legitimacy and relevance. The Taliban’s control of Afghanistan since 15 August 2021 following the US troops’ withdrawal is expected to cause these security implications as follows:

  • Afghanistan could once again become a hotbed for terrorism.
  • Taliban will be providing sanctuary for militant and terrorist groups especially Al Qaeda and its affiliates.
  • An increase in threats or attacks by Al Qaeda and affiliates against western interests in order to continue their global jihad aspiration.
  • There will be a rise in clashes between Taliban and ISKP in order to gain legitimacy among radical and extremist groups globally.

While terrorism continues to pose significant threats to other parts of the world, the continuous efforts of the Southeast Asian security forces managed to weaken some of the prominent groups in the region. The following are the highlights of other notable terrorism-related occurrences around the world:

  • On 2 July 2021, an Al Shabab suicide bomber exploded himself near a cafe close to the well-known Juba Hotel and the headquarters of Somali intelligence agency in Mogadishu, Somalia. The attack killed 10 people and wounded dozens. Al Shabab took responsibility that it had targeted intelligence, police and military forces to avenge the terror campaigns against them in Somalia. Meanwhile, on 10 July 2021, Al Shabaab also orchestrated a VBIED attack targeting a government convoy in Mogadishu, Somalia which killed nine people and injured 10 others. The group wanted to overthrow the government and impose its strict interpretation of Islamic Sharia Law through violence.
  • On 19 July 2021, a suicide bomber killed at least 35 people and wounded 60 others in a crowded market in the Sadr City, Baghdad in Iraq. Daesh claimed responsibility for the attack on Telegram.
  • On 22 July 2021, a video produced by the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) has shown hundreds of Boko Haram members pledging allegiance to ISWAP and Daesh. The video emerged a few weeks after the leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau was reportedly died. Boko Haram is led by its new chief, Bakura Modu @ Sahaba. There are fears that ISWAP is attempting to gain control over the entire insurgency, leading to more violence against locals mainly in the northern part of Nigeria.
  • On 12 July 2021, a 41 year old male was deported from Doha, Qatar and arrested by the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) in Sri Lanka for propagating the LTTE and supporting attempts to revive the LTTE since 2019.
  • On 17 August 2021, two women identified as Mizha Siddeque and Shofa Harris were arrested in Kannur, Kerala in India in connection with Daesh Kerala Module case. Both have been accused of supporting, propagating Daesh ideology and recruiting new members over social media platforms such as Telegram, Hoop Messenger and Instagram.
  • On 15 August 2021, the Taliban freed more than 5000 prisoners, including Al Qaeda and Daesh inmates from Bagram airbase and Pul-e-Charki prison in Kabul, Afghanistan. Consequently, the Taliban executed the former chief of ISKP, Mawlawi Zia ul-Haq. Afghan security forces arrested Ziya ul-Haq in an operation in May 2020. The new ISKP chief is Shahab Al-Muhajir. The execution of Zia ul-Haq showed the group’s hatred towards Daesh because ISKP had killed Taliban members in Nangarhar, Afghanistan.
  • On 20 August 2021, a horrifying execution video of Badghis police chief, General Mullah Achakzai by the Taliban was circulated on the internet. The general was a well-known name in Afghanistan who has fought against the Taliban and other terrorist networks in Afghanistan. The killing displayed the Taliban’s retribution against its enemies, notably the former Afghanistan army and police, whom they perceived as their competitors in the race for legitimacy in Afghanistan.
  • On 26 August 2021, Daesh’s Amaq News Agency revealed on its Telegram channel that the ISKP has claimed responsibility on the twin suicide attacks and gun shots at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. The attacks killed 182 people including 13 US troops and injured hundred others. The motives behind the attacks could be the anti-US or anti-western sentiment or an attempt to cause friction between the US and Taliban on the very last days of US military withdrawal from Afghanistan.
  • On 3rd September 2021, a man attacked and wounded at least six people with a knife at the Countdown Market, Auckland in New Zealand. The perpetrator was Ahamed Aathil Mohamed Samsudeen (32 years old), a Sri Lankan national who was under police surveillance and a Daesh supporter. The attacker was shot dead by the police. Ahamed Aathil came to the attention of the police in 2016 after he expressed sympathy and comments advocating violent extremism.

Terrorism Trends in Southeast Asia

The Philippines

The terrorism-related issues involving Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) are as follows:

  • On 10 July 2021, two suspected members of ASG identified as Taupik Galbun @ Pa Wahid, and Saik Galbun @ Pa Tanda, were arrested in Taguig, Manila. Taupik is a member of ASG of the group of the late Basilan-based Isnilon Hapilon and Bakal Hapilon. Saik has a warrant of arrest for the crime of kidnapping and serious illegal detention. Both were suspected to be involved in KFR activities in Southern Philippines.
  • On 30 July 2021, a non-uniformed employee of the Philippine National Police (PNP),  Masckur Adoh Patarasa, was arrested in Barangay Asturias in Jolo, Sulu for supporting ASG and Dawlah Islamiyah (DI). Masckur is also a brother-in-law of the late ASG leader Isnilon Hapilon and had joined ASG in 2001 under the leadership of Khadaffy Janjalani, in Basilan before shifting to ASG senior leader Radullan Sahiron in Sulu.
  • On 9 August 2021, nine ASG members surrendered to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in Indanan, Sulu. Some of them involved in previous KFR activities including the Sipadan kidnappings in 2000. Those who yielded will undergo long-term rehabilitation and enrol in livelihood programs.

The terrorism-related issues involving Dawlah Islamiyah (DI) are as follows:

  • On 2 July 2021, a suspected terrorist believed to be from the DI-Hassan faction, Muslimin Kulas Tagal, was killed in a clash with the army in Barangay Salman, Ampatuan in Maguindanao. This heavy skirmish lasted for 30 minutes and several weapons belonged to the group were seized.
  • From 15 to 24 August 2021, AFP encountered around 30 members of DI-Maute, led by Abu Bakar/Abu Zacaria in Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte in Southern Mindanao. The clashes forced more than 2000 villagers to evacuate to safer ground in Lanao del Norte. The fighting started in Madalum, Lanao del Sur after the locals reported the presence of the terrorist group in their vicinity.

For BIFF, there were 11 suspected members of BIFF group including a subleader known as Mulawin from Karialan faction yielded to the AFP in Barangay Kuloy, Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao on 14 August 2021. Until now, it is believed that more than 100 members of the BIFF and its sub-groups have surrendered since January 2021.

Overall, local terrorist groups continue to play a key role in undermining security in the southern Philippines. Based on their sporadic atrocities and continued IED, KFR-related activities, there is a higher likelihood that local terrorist groups will pursue more hostile endeavours. The groups also appear to be relying on their inter-group alliances and support networks in areas outside of their traditional strongholds.

Besides, due to the continued military pressure, the execution of Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, and the implementation of Preventing/Countering Violent Extremism (PCVE), more than 100 terrorists have surrendered to the Philippines security forces.  The PCVE programmes are also part of the local community efforts to persuade terrorists and their supporters to reintegrate into society. The Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan (PAMANA) – Resilient Communities Conflict Affected Communities, Local Social Integration Program for the ASG, and the Tugon Project for BIFF are among the PCVE projects. These coordinated initiatives will effectively address the serious concerns that communities have about development, governance, and security, as well as assist terrorists to turn over a new leaf.


In early August 2021, a medical doctor identified as Dr Agung Rahmadi was sentenced to three years jail by Central Jakarta Court District for allegedly joining Daesh in Syria. According to the man, he travelled to Syria in 2015 to help Muslims who he believed being oppressed and discriminated against. He used to be the follower of JI in Bekasi and later, pledged allegiance to Daesh.

From 11 to 17 July 2021, three members of Mujahidin Eastern Indonesia (MIT) were killed in two raids in Palu and Poso, Sulawesi. More significantly, on 18 September 2021, the MADAGO RAYA operation, a joint military and police effort killed Ali Kalora, the most wanted terrorist and leader of the MIT in Sulawesi Island. He took over the leadership of MIT after security forces killed its previous head, Santoso @ Abu Wardah in 2016. The death of Ali Kalora might pressure the remaining four members of MIT who are still on the run. There is a high possibility that they would continue to fight security forces.

In August 2021, Densus 88 apprehended 53 suspected terrorists in several regions of Indonesia. Of all, 50 were JI members, while the remaining three were members of the JAD terror group. The Covid-19 pandemic did not halt terrorist groups’ activity. They use pandemic issues as a trigger point to motivate their groups to continue terrorism-related offences.

On 10 September 2021, a senior JI member, Abu Rusydan, was arrested in Bekasi for allegedly being involved in the fundraising scheme, notably by participating in Dawlah Syuro Neo- JI. He was arrested in 2004 for giving aid to a Bali Bombing 2002 bomber, Muchlas and participated in the paramilitary training in Afghanistan in the 1990s. His arrest signified potential retaliation by Neo-JI sympathizers and his followers against the Indonesian authority.

Despite the aggressive counter terrorism campaign, Daesh linked groups in Indonesia like the JAD and affiliates potentially continue their modus operandi and plot attacks against local authority or places of worship. They now operate independently with little coordination from their central leadership. For JI or Neo-JI, they are rebuilding the strength by collecting more funds through charity boxes, oil plantation business and crimes, and recruiting new followers and militant training. However, due to the ongoing arrest of their members and leadership, the group’s plan may seem at stake.

The movement of terrorist groups in Indonesia is also influenced by developments at the global and regional levels. Taliban’s victory may indeed revitalise terrorist groups in Indonesia, especially pro-Al Qaeda groups such as JI. Other extremist movements also rejoiced in the glory and shared the Taliban’s success strategy across social media. However, this latest outcome has not favoured Daesh affiliates, notably JAD, where the group has accused the Taliban as an apostate for having ties with the US and China.


On 19 July 2021, a Singaporean businessman, Mohamed Kazali Salleh (50 years old) was charged in court for providing financial support to a Daesh militant for terror-related activities. He was accused of lending a total of S$1,000 to Wan Mohd Aquil Wan Zainal Abidin @ Akel Zainal, a Malaysian Daesh militant  based Syria. The transaction took place prior to the terrorist’s death in March 2019. Mohamed Kazali was arrested by the Royal Malaysia Police (RMP) in December 2018 and deported to Singapore on 7 Jan 19. He was also issued with an Order of Detention under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for supporting Daesh. The involvement of Mohamed Kazali shows that there are individuals who does not participate in an active terrorism activities but expresses sympathy by providing financial aid. Mohamed Kazali’s random act of kindness reveals that there could be many sympathizers willing sacrifice a portion of their salary for terror causes.


On 18 August 2021, there were 12 ASG members arrested in Pulau Timbang, Sandakan. Subsequently, on 20 August 2021, two ASG members were shot dead by the RMP in Bornhill Palm Oil in Sandakan. The group’s kidnapping plan was revealed by an ASG sub-leader Sansibar Bencio who was arrested with seven other ASG members at Taman Sri Arjuna, Beaufort, on 8 May 2021. They planned to abduct two oil palm plantation owners residing in Sandakan and Sukau for ransom to fund the ASG – Sulu base at Sulu, Southern Philippines.

Two Malaysian terror suspects were charged on 30 August 2021 at the United States Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for charges linked to deadly bombings in Indonesia more than 19 years ago. Mohammed Nazir Lep and Mohammed Farik Amin have been detained in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba since 2006, together with Indonesian Encep Nurjaman, also known as Hambali, who is said to be the mastermind of the bombings. The trio was arrested in Thailand by the CIA in 2003 and had undergone militant training in Afghanistan with Al Qaeda. All three were charged with conspiracy, attempted murder, murder, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, terrorism, destruction of property, and attacking civilians and civilian objects. However, the charges have been delayed due to translation and interpretation problems. As the international media once touted Hambali as the “Osama bin Laden of Southeast Asia”, he is still influential and capable of attracting support from the new generations of JI. Also, being the senior member of JI, Hambali’s release will be something that is much-awaited by its members.

On 13 September 2021, the Japanese Embassy in Kuala Lumpur had warned Japanese citizens in Malaysia over possible terrorist threats in Southeast Asia. They had issued an advisory to all of its citizens in Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar to stay away from religious facilities and other crowded areas. The warning was purportedly based on a statement by an East Asia Mujahideen militant, Abu Hamza al-Malizi, which was reportedly came from an unverified source. The Daesh supporter allegedly encouraged followers and sympathizers to stage attacks in the region. Despite the fact that the present threat level is “moderate,” there is no hint of a terrorist threat or lone wolf plot in the country when the COVID-19 overshadows the rest. Such baseless claims could welcome unwanted tension and panic not only for a specific nationality but the entire public in general. 

On 23 September 2021, a Malaysian militant, identified as Ahmad Mustakim Abdul Hamid (34 years old), was sentenced to 15 years in jail by a Somali military court in Mogadishu for conspiring with Al-Shabaab. He had reportedly entered Somalia in 2009 assisted and fought alongside the group in Mogadishu and Dhusamared. Malaysians who joined and supported terrorist groups overseas still raised a concern due to the risk they may pose to the foreign land and their homeland

What Can Be Expected

Terrorist groups are thriving mainly in Africa and South Asia. It is known that there are several factors that several factors lead to the ongoing terrorist activity, which includes competition for local resources, poor governance and also the weak governments to deliver services and provide economic opportunities to their population, especially in the interior areas. Thus, giving a chance to militant groups to take charge in the affected areas. 

In Southeast Asia, the risk of terrorism remains moderate due to the ongoing counter terrorism campaign and PCVE efforts, which has taken to another level. More and more terrorist members were annihilated and apprehended whilst their terror plots were also thwarted by local enforcement.

However, the recent development in Afghanistan might still cause concern after the Taliban victory due to the expectation of the return of its affiliates, mainly Al Qaeda and its global jihad agenda. Some local homegrown groups or extreme movements would be inspired by the victory of the Taliban’s take over Afghanistan and maintaining their ambition to establish an Islamic country based on Islamic Law. Despite the Taliban being under the spotlight, pro-Daesh groups remain the ones to watch, notably for the increased threat of ISKP in Afghanistan. The group will likely to increase their recruiting activity targeting FTF to regain strength and continue their media operation.


In summary, due to the changing trends of extremism and terrorism, the efforts to deal with these two aspects need to be explored more to keep pace with the changes. Collective political will is required to implement the various measures to counter terrorism. Existing cooperation among nations has to be harnessed and taken to greater levels.

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