The third quarter of Terrorism Watch 2023 explores the most recent events and developments pertaining to terror-related incidents in Southeast Asia and significant incidents worldwide from July to September 2023. Somalia has now successfully regained control of more than 215 locations previously controlled by the Al-Shabaab group with the help of ATMIS, but it is expected to be a bit challenging when ATMIS will extract a number of military personnel by the end of this year which will result in Al-Shabaab having the opportunity to control the area again.
In Southeast Asia, The death of Abu al-Hussein al-Husseini al-Qurashi and the announcement of Abu Hafs al-Hashimi al-Qurashi as the new leader of Daesh have increased the support for Daesh, especially in Southeast Asia countries. There are still efforts to reactivate terrorist groups as well as the spread of Daesh ideology in Indonesia by JAD followers who are obsessed and fanatical with their jihad struggle.
Classifying a group and individual as terrorists is significant because it will facilitate the government to monitor the process and action against any terrorist activity in Malaysia.
In conclusion, the third quarter of 2023 sees an increase in the global and regional threat that terrorism poses. The threat perception has shifted to incorporate the dissemination of narratives in cyberspace, particularly on social media. Countries, particularly in this region, must take drastic measures to mitigate the issue.
There are significant events in a number of countries around the world during the third quarter of 2023. The threat of terrorism at the global and regional levels has shown a significant increase, in addition to the latest trends in European countries. The detection of trends in the use of online gaming platforms as in the previous report shows that the online platform and social media applications are still one of Daesh’s modus operandi for spreading propaganda that focuses on teenagers. Respective agencies such as Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) and Royal Malaysian Police (RMP) need to carry out periodic monitoring of social media content as well as video applications such as YouTube that are capable of threatening national security and can be blocked from being accessed by Malaysians if necessary.
The following are the highlights of terrorism-related occurrences around the world:
On Aug 22, 23, a bomb explosion in Kabul, Afghanistan has left four people dead and many injured. The incident occurred near the Afghan Taliban Ministry building when a rickshaw equipped with an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) exploded. The Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) terrorist group has claimed to be responsible for the incident.
ISKP continues to be the main threat to the Taliban in restoring peace to Afghanistan. The attack was carried out to show ISKP is still relevant in Afghanistan and welcoming the new leader of Daesh. The trend of ISKP attacks in Afghanistan is more directed towards Taliban groups, Shiite minority groups and foreigners. ISKP attacks have also had a negative impact on Afghanistan’s socio-economics. The threat of terrorism in Afghanistan is seen to continue for a long time if no drastic efforts are taken by the current government to fight ISKP.
On 8 Jul 23, India’s ‘most wanted’ Al Qaeda terrorist, Ikramul Haq @ Abu Talha, was arrested in Sabuj Bagh Dhaka, Bangladesh with his wife Faria Afrin by the Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime Unit (CTTC). Faria Afrin is also an important member of the group possess fake Indian citizenship.
On 22 Jul 23, the Bangladesh Elite Forces arrested Hafez Nur Mohammad, the main leader of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) at Cox’s Bazar refugee camp, southeast of Bangladesh. ARSA is a militant group responsible for many criminal activities, kidnappings and murders.
Bangladesh has become a hub for members of terrorist groups from India, Nepal and Pakistan whose trying to escape from the custody of the authorities. The arrest of Abu Talha, the highest leader of AQIS, is also the result of interrogations conducted on several AQIS members who were arrested in May 2023 in Gujarat, India. Therefore, the arrest of Abu Talha is seen to slowing down the activities of AQIS in South Asia as well as assisting India and Bangladesh to arrest more key figures related to terrorist groups such as Ansar Al-Islam in Bangladesh. The success of Bangladesh security forces in arresting senior leaders of ARSA is considered as one of the efforts to reduce ARSA’s extortion and criminal activities in the Cox’s Bazar camp. The actions of Bangladesh security forces to crack down on the ARSA network, especially in Cox’s Bazar, are seen as significant in dealing with the terrorist and criminal activities of ARSA active in the camp. However, this security operation is capable of being a push factor for members of ARSA to escape to neighboring countries such as Malaysia in order to seek protection, as well as increasing the risk of threats to national security.
On 16 Aug 23, 78 Boko Haram terrorists and family members surrendered to the Multi National Joint Task Force (MNJTF), Sector 3 of Operation Hadin Kai in the Monguno local government area of Borno State. This is due to the pressure from the operation of the Nigerian security force and the attack from the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) group.
On 26 Aug 23, 41 terrorists from Boko Haram and the Islamic State of West African Province (ISWAP) were killed during conflict in Northeast Borno. ISWAP terrorists who came with several boats attacked the Boko Haram terrorist group led by Bakoura Buduma in the Kukawa Local Government area located about 130 KM from Maiduguri. There were several leaders killed in the attack including Modu Kayi, Abbah Musa, Isa Muhammed, Ibrahim Ali, Kanai Zakariya, Bula Salam, Isuhu Alhaji Umaru, Dogo Salman dan Abdulrahman Malam Musa.
The success of the Nigerian Armed Forces in several operations combating terrorist has had a positive impact on the current situation of terrorism in Nigeria. The ongoing operation to disable the activities of the Boko Haram group by the Nigerian forces as well as the fierce battle with ISWAP terrorists has been regard as a push factor for some Boko Haram members and their families to surrender in order to get protection. Although Boko Haram in Buduma succeeded in capturing nearly 60 ISWAP terrorists and captured three main leaders, ISWAP still have an advantage at this point following the defection of Abou Idris, the former head of Boko Haram who joined ISWAP group to fight Boko Haram. The conflict between Boko Haram and ISWAP has become increasingly critical especially in the Sambisa forest in Borno and the Lake Chad region to remain relevant in leading the African region.
On 30 Jul 23, at least 55 people died and 135 wounded after a suicide bomber attacked a political rally organized by the Islamist party in Khar, Bajaur district, near the Afghan border. The erupting attack targeted members of the Jamiat Ulama e Islam Fazl (JUI F) party, which gathered around 500 people during the rally. Maulana Ziaullah, the local leader of the Rehman Party, was among the dead while Senator Abdur Rasheed and former Parliamentary Member, Maulana Jamaludin managed to escape. No terrorist group claimed to be responsible for the attack.
On 11 Sep 23, Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) attacked a military convoy in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan and seized the military headquarters in Chitral. The action also follows a series of attacks on security forces in Chitral a few weeks ago. During the incident, four soldiers died and seven TTP members were also killed. TTP has claimed responsible for the attack aimed at security forces as the main target.
The JUI-F political party led by Maulana Fazlur Rehman is considered as pro-Taliban and his political party is part of the coalition government in Islamabad. This attack was carried out by ISKP who targeted JUI-F party leaders. While the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa incident shows that TTP attacks were concentrated in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region based on the trend in several hotspot locations such as North Waziran, Balochistan and several other locations. Pakistan has remarked a significant increase in terrorist activities especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, after the TTP ended a ceasefire with the government in November last year. Terrorist groups in Pakistan are expected to carry out a series of terrorist attacks in near future to put pressure on the interim government before the General Elections.
On 24 Jul 23, 30 members from Somali Armed Forces died and 73 others were injured resulted from an explosion at a military training camp in Somalia. The suicide bombing incident took place at Jalle Siyaad Army Training Camp while recruits were lining up for administrative activities. The soldiers killed in the attack were mostly from Lower Shabelle province.
On 5 Sep 23, Somali security forces has killed 43 Al-Shabaab terrorists and wounded several others during an operation in Galgaduud province, Somalia. Somali Armed Forces also destroyed three Al-Shabaab combat vehicles and foiled another attack by the Al Shabaab terrorist group in the Shabelle province.
The suicide attack at the Jalle Siyaad Military Training Camp was carried out by Al-Shabaab followers as a revenge for the offensive operation carried out by the Somalian Armed Forces (SAF) recently. In recent weeks, the military campaign against the Al-Shabaab group has been temporarily halted to allow SAF to prepare for the second attack. This also gives space to these terrorist groups in organizing strategies to carry out counterattacks. In addition, security operations continue to be implemented as the Somali government steps up its efforts to mobilize the public against Al-Shabaab. This move aimed at galvanizing public support for the ongoing offensive operation. During the first phase, SAF managed to regain control of more than 215 locations that were previously under the control of the Al-Shabaab group with the help of the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS). However, the second phase is expected to be challenging when ATMIS will extract a group of 3000 military personnel by the end of this year while the help of local tribes in eliminating Al-Shabaab is seen as less serious.
On 5 Aug 23, Daesh has announced the death of its leader, Abu al Hussein al Husseini al Qurashi, who was killed in north western Syria. Abu al Hussein was killed after an attack with the jihadist group, Hayat Tahrir al Sham (HTS) in Idlib and Daesh has also announced Abu Hafs al Hashimi al Qurashi as the fifth leader of Daesh.
On 12 Aug 23, Daesh has ambushed a bus carrying the Syrian army and killed at least 20 members and wounded 10 others. The attack, carried out by the Daesh’s sleeper cell, near the eastern city of Mayadeen, in Deir Az Zor.
After the death of Abu al-Hussein al-Husseini al-Qurashi last April, Daesh has taken almost four months to find a new leader for the group. The announcement of Abu Hafs al-Hashimi al-Qurashi as the new and fifth leader of Daesh will provide a positive indication, especially in Southeast Asian countries’ supporters. Support for the highest leadership is usually expressed through bai’ah videos and ideology. Recently, operations by among Southeast Asian countries have reduced the momentum of terrorist activities and the spread of the group’s ideology. While in Syria, attacks by Daesh sleeper cells have given a message showing Daesh is still relevant and powerful. Daesh ideology is expected to be spread, especially among the youth in refugee camps that are nest for this ideology, and Daesh will continue to adapt all technologies to attract and increase their followers.
Terrorism Trends in Southeast Asia
On 16 Jul 23, Densus 88 arrested suspected terrorists in Lombok identified as HSN @ UL and OS @ O. Densus 88 arrested HSN @ UL in Kampung Baru, Mukim Selong, East Lombok District while OS @ O at Lembar Port jetty, West Lombok. HSN allegedly played a role in recruiting members of Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) Bima. Meanwhile, OS @ O is a member of East Lombok JAD who is actively spreading tutorial videos on making bombs and firearms as well as planning to move to Syria.
On 5 Aug 23, five members of JAD in Sukoharjo and Boyolaili, Central Java Indonesia have been charged on planning to attack the Solo Police Station. These five suspects were also linked to the previous suicide bombing incident at the Astana Anyar Police Headquarters, Bandung. All of them were arrested while trying to collect donation boxes marked with ‘Friends of the Sky and Donation Boxes of Friends of the People’ to finance the terrorist acts in Solo.
On 14 Aug 23, suspected terrorist Dananjaya Erbening, an employee of the Indonesian Railways (KAI) was arrested for planning an attack on the Mobil Brigade Corps Command Headquarters (Mako Brimob) Kelapa Dua, Depok, West Java. The main purpose was to free the prisoners of terrorism and seize the weapons depot. The Indonesian security forces has found dozens of evidence such as 18 long-barreled, short-barreled and water guns modified into firearms as well as thousands of bullets including several guns and radical reading materials during the search.
The success of these operations has shown that Indonesian government is aggressive in countering terrorist activities. However, there are still efforts to reactivate terrorist groups as well as the spread of Daesh ideology in Indonesia carried out by JAD followers who are obsessed and fanatical with their jihad struggle. Dananjaya Erbening has seen actively supporting Daesh through social media accounts and as an administrator of several Telegram channels, documentaries and news archives. Based on the amount of weapons and ammunition seized, it shows that the suspect is ready to organize a strategy to carry out attack by a large group of terrorist. There is no doubt that the items found indicate the possibility of a terrorist attack plan during the 2024 Indonesian General Election. Although sanctions and the enforcement of anti-terror laws have almost paralyzed the terrorist groups in Indonesia, the spread of Daesh’s narrative is still prevalent which may result in terror attacks to continue.
On 2 July 23, the Islamic State East Asia Province (ISEAP) group announced their new leader to replace Abu Zacharia. Al-Fursan Media announced that ISEAP has chosen Abu Turaife as the successor asserted that he will lead Daesh in the Southeast Asian region and threatened to take revenge on security forces for killing their leader. Abu Zacharia @ Faharudin Hadji Benito Satar was killed on June 14, 23 by Philippine security forces in Barangay Bangon, Lanao del Sur.
On 15 Aug 23, 10 members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) suspected of attacking two military trucks and a vehicle in an ambush in Ungkaya Pukan, Basilan. The attack led to the death of one Philippine security force and eight wounded on their way to scout a location for a mission. It was reported that the Philippine security force also retaliated and forced the terrorist group to retreat.
The death of Abu Zacharia has caused Daesh groups under ISEAP to start reshaping its direction and target. Failure to appoint a new leader to replace Abu Zacharia will lead the remaining groups to split and weaken the structure and ideology of their group. Abu Turaife’s appointment was made based on his abilities and capabilities in religion as well as radical movements which is the central nerve of Daesh ideology.
The current situation in the Southern Philippines has had an impact on the survival of terrorist groups. The pre-emptive operation carried out by the Philippines Armed Forces (PAF) has put pressure on the remaining terrorist groups. Although various efforts have been implemented by the government, they have not yet been able to change the perception and ideology of the remaining terrorists who still adhere to the principles of their struggle. Security operations through the Focused Military Operation (FMO) are expected to be intensified to prevent terrorist groups from organizing strategies for any terrorist activity in the Southern Philippines.
The status of terrorism threat at the national level is under control. Total number individuals involved with Daesh terrorist and militant networks arrested since 2013 until now is 562 individuals including 196 foreigners and 366 local citizens.
On 20 Jul 23, five members of the Royal Sulu Force (RSF) were spotted in a Pondohan, Semporna Sabah. The group is reported to establish connection with RSF sympathizers to provide financial assistance in addition to reviewing the level of security around Pondohan.
This development shows that RSF is always looking for opportunities in carrying out any attack that may threaten national security. This group has been declared as terrorist group by the Malaysian government since April 2022 and in the latest development, the Malaysian Government also classified Fuad or his full name Muhammad Fuad Abdullah Kiram as a terrorist for having “participated in and facilitated the commission of terrorist acts”. Classifying a group and individual as terrorists is significant because it will facilitate the government to monitor the process and action against any terrorist activity in Malaysia. Security agencies especially the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM) need to be alert in detecting any indicators related to the suspicious activities of this terrorist group along Malaysia-Philippines waters.
Terrorism incidents at the global and regional level still show a significant increase for the period of the Third Quarter of 2023 in line with the opening of the international borders. At the global level, countries such as Afghanistan, Cameroon, Iraq, Libya, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Serbia, Somalia, Syria and Turkey continue to receive threats of terrorism due to on-going conflicts while there are new countries that have similar indicators such as New Zealand. Somalia has now successfully regained control of more than 215 locations previously controlled by the Al-Shabaab group with the help of ATMIS, but it is expected to be a bit challenging when ATMIS will extract a number of military personnel by the end of this year which will result in Al-Shabaab having the opportunity to control the area again. The arrest of ARSA’s senior leader is seen as significant in reducing ARSA’s terrorist activities in the Cox’s Bazar camp, but could be a push factor for ARSA group members to escape to neighboring countries, especially Malaysia, at the same time increasing the risk of national security threats. Meanwhile, The death of Abu al-Hussein al-Husseini al-Qurashi and the announcement of Abu Hafs al-Hashimi al-Qurashi as the new leader of Daesh has increased the support for Daesh, especially in Southeast Asian countries.
On the other hand, the development of the threat of terrorism in the Southeast Asian region, countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines continue to implement pre-emptive actions and successfully curb the threat of terrorism in the country in the third quarter of the year while other countries in the Southeast Asian region continue to be proactive in ensuring that the threat of terrorism does not occur through bilateral and multilateral cooperation. Several arrests related to members of the JAD group show that there are efforts to reactivate terrorist activities as well as the spread of Daesh terrorist ideology in Indonesia. The massive arrests of individuals and weapons have indicated the possibility of a terrorist attack when Indonesia’s 2024 General Elections could take place. The death of Abu Zacharia and the failure to appoint a new leader to replace him can weaken the structure and ideology of the terrorist group’s especially ASG in the Southern Philippines. The appointment of Abu Turaife is vital in re-strengthening the group and this appointment was made based on his abilities and capabilities in religion as well as radical movements. While the current situation in the South of the Philippines shows that the Enhanced – Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP) and FMO have had an impact on the survival of terrorist groups but there are still remnants of terrorists who still stick to their principles of struggle.
In general, the global and regional threat posed by terrorism is beginning to intensify. The threat of terrorism in Southeast Asia spans the global, national, and regional arenas. This growing threat cannot be eradicated by any single state as it is a transnational threat that requires a multilateral response. The potential return of foreign fighters and their families from detention facilities in Syria and Iraq remains an issue of great concern in Southeast Asia. The reality is that Southeast Asia has been through this before; the last time foreign fighters came home, they returned with connections to international networks, foreign funding sources, and refined tactics. The threat perception has shifted to include the spreading of propaganda in cyberspace, such as on social media. The issue of terrorism on a global and regional scale has no effect on national security at this time. As such, national security and the threat of terrorism should not be treated lightly. The potential threat of terrorism in the nation remains at a moderate level and a terrorist attack remains possible.