The first quarter of Terrorism Watch 2022 examines the latest events and developments on terror-related incidents in Southeast Asia and key incidents worldwide from January to March 2022. Extremist movements and terrorist networks are undoubtedly seeking new opportunities to see what this year has in store. Daesh’s domain is not only limited to the crumbling caliphate in Iraq and Syria or Afghanistan and Pakistan but increasingly stretches into some parts of Africa and maintains influence in Southeast Asia. Additionally, threats in Southern Philippines are mainly from Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), Dawlah Islamiyah (DI) – Maute, Hassan Group and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). Following their resilience to survival and the emergence of a new Emir, the Focused Military Operation (FMO) will continue to ensure the terrorist networks in the Southern Philippines.
Meanwhile, in Indonesia, there were fewer terror-related incidents. However, extremist and Daesh followers actively operate in cyberspace to reach followers and sympathisers. Malaysia has recorded no arrests in the first-quarter report. The opening of Malaysian borders for tourism would require the law enforcement agencies to be vigilant and continue to work with international partners to detect terrorists.
The ninth edition of the Global Terrorism Index (GTI) has highlighted several key points that will help to give a glimpse of what 2022 will bring in terms of terrorism. In summary, the overall threat and death caused by terrorism fell fairly compared to previous years especially pre COVID-19 years. Significantly, GTI highlights that there was a shift in the dynamics of terrorism where it is becoming more concentrated in regions and countries suffering from political instability, such as the Sahel, Afghanistan and Myanmar. The report has supported its analysis of the shift based on the statistics showing that politically-motivated terrorism has overtaken religiously motivated terrorism over the last five years.
The decline in terrorism over the past two years coincides with the COVID-19 pandemic. The restrictions on movements, gatherings, and national borders’ closure may have contributed to the decline. The COVID-19 pandemic has also become a political propaganda tool where the opposition uses the government’s mismanagement and failure to contain the virus to undermine the government. The points regarding the shift in terrorism motivation correspond with the reality in many countries. With many countries reopening their borders, more terrorism-related development will be expected to catch media attention soon.
The Daesh affiliated groups, especially the Islamic State of the Khorasan Province (ISKP), were the deadliest terrorist group in 2021, and it is expected to achieve the same milestone in 2022. Meanwhile, the Daesh network has shifted resources and attention to its affiliates and branches beyond Syria and Iraq to remain relevant and steadily gained momentum. In terms of terror tactics, we should expect terrorists to continue to seek out emerging technologies to enhance the lethality of their attacks.
The announcement of the new Daesh leader, Abu Al-Hassan Al-Hashemi Al-Qurashi, on 10 March 22 has encouraged other Daesh branches in the Middle East, South Asia, Africa and Southeast Asia to pledge allegiance to Daesh’s third Caliph, reinforcing unity among Daesh networks. The leader is expected to lay his new vision and directions to achieve what his predecessors envisioned Daesh.
The following are the highlights of terrorism-related occurrences around the world:
a. Daesh attacked the Al-Sina’a prison in the Ghuwayran area of Al-Hasakah city, Syria, from 20 to 30 January 22. The attack was meant to free its 3000 fighters, including Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTF) and child soldiers known as the Cub of Caliphate. On 30 January 22, the Syrian Defence Forces (SDF) regained full control of the prison and the surrounding neighbourhoods. The incidents resulted in more than 400 casualties, including SDF soldiers and Daesh members. The attack was the largest attack committed by Daesh since it lost its last key Syrian territory in 2019.
b. On 3 February 22, U.S. Special Operations Forces carried out a raid that led to the death of Daesh leader Abu Ibrahim al Hashimi Al Qurashi, @ Hajji Abdullah, in the Syrian village of Atmeh in Idlib province, Syria. The slain leader who refused to surrender detonated a suicide vest that killed himself, his wife and children. Abu Ibrahim was the third terrorist leader to die in a U.S. operation. In 2011, President Barack Obama deployed U.S. Navy SEALs to Abbottabad in northern Pakistan to capture the late Al Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden. Osama died at his compound during the raid. In 2019, President Donald Trump sent Special Forces to hunt Daesh’s first leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi in northern Syria. Abu Bakr blew himself up during the operation to avoid being captured.
c. On 10 March 22, Daesh announced that Abu Al Hassan Al Hashimi Al Qurashi was the new leader of Daesh after confirming the death of Abu Ibrahim Al Hashimi Al Qurashi. He is the elder brother of the late Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi and was chosen by Abu Ibrahim Al Hashimi to lead Daesh. The term ‘Al-Hashimi and Al-Qurashi’ indicates that he claims to be a descendant of the prophet Muhammad, belonging to the Hashim clan of the Quraish tribe.
a. In February, the US has set a bounty of USD 10 million for information leading to the location or identification of Sanaullah Ghafari, the leader of the Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP). Sanaullah Ghafari was responsible for approving all ISKP operations throughout Afghanistan, including the 2021 Kabul International airport suicide attack and his role in raising funds for the group.
a. On 4 March 22, at least 63 people were killed and 196 wounded after a blast inside a Shiite mosque in Kochar Risaldar, Peshawar in Pakistan. The attack happened during the Friday prayers, aimed at the worshippers. The ISKP in Pakistan had claimed responsibility for the suicide attack.
a. On 11 February 22, five United Nations workers were abducted by members suspected to be Al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP) in Abyan, Yemen, after the workers completed a field mission. The group requested USD 5 million for the release of the UN workers. However, the negotiation conducted by local tribal figures failed and ended in deadlock while the UN officials and the local Yemeni authorities refused to pay ransom for their release.
a. On 18 February 22, Al Shabaab claimed responsibility for a suicide attack in a restaurant in Beledweyne, Mogadishu. The attacks had killed 15 people, including a parliamentary election candidate and injured 30 others. The incident occurred on the eve of the first round of voting for 25 parliamentary seats in the Beledweyne constituency. The killings were allegedly aimed at disrupting the elections.
Terrorism Trends in Southeast Asia
The terrorism-related issues involving the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) are as follows:
a. On 6 March 22, security forces arrested Nursitta Mahalli Malud, also known as Kirsita Ismael, for allegedly possessing explosives and bomb-making materials in Barangay Tulay, Jolo. Kirsita Ismael is the second wife of bomb maker, Mundi Sawadjaan. She is also in charge of his finances and the procurement of IED materials.
The terrorism-related issues involving Dawlah Islamiyah (DI) are as follows:
a. On 15 January 22, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) killed the alleged leader of the DI-Hassan Group, Norodin Hassan, and three other members in a military operation. They were reportedly involved in the bus bombing attack on 11 Jan 22 in Cotabato. Troops had recovered M14 and M1 Garand rifles, ammunition and magazines for various firearms, analogue cellphones, solar panels, handheld radios and other subversive documents with high intelligence value.
b. On 1 March 22, troops launched close air support on DI-Maute Group strongholds in Lanao del Sur, Mindanao. This operation was conducted to hunt DI-Maute leader Faharudin Hadji Satar @ Zacaria @ Abu Zacariah @ Omar @ Jer Mimbantas, who is believed to be the new Emir of Daesh in Southern Philippines. After the clashes between both sides, troops recovered two .50-caliber machine guns, a .30-caliber machine gun, an AK-47 assault rifle; an M16 rifle, an M14 rifle; a Garand rifle, three rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), 22 improvised explosive devices (IEDs), hundreds of assorted ammunition, several anti-personnel mines and bomb components. The operation killed seven members of DI-Maute while Zacaria managed to escape.
For the Daesh media and propaganda in the Philippines are as follows:
a. In January 2022, a Tausug from Basilan, identified as Ibn B, released messages on Facebook calling for Muslims to take arms and unite against the enemies of religion. The account owner, believed to be a supporter of Daesh and Al Qaeda, called for the unification of Muslims against government forces operating in Mindanao.
b. An alleged Daesh Filipino female supporter, known as Al U, urged other female followers on Facebook to covertly assist militants. Al’s account has been active since 16 November 21.
The terrorism-related issue involving the Eastern Indonesia Mujahidin (MIT) is as follows:
a. On 4 January 22, a member of MIT, identified as Ahmad Ghazali @ Ahmad Panjang was gunned down in Parigi Moutong, Poso in Sulawesi. After the shootout, security forces confiscated a homemade bomb, a bottle containing gunpowder, a machete and other evidence. The new death has reduced MIT members to three.
The terrorism-related issues involving the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) are as follows:
a. On 22 January 22, the Indonesian court sentenced a JI member, Aris Sumarsano @ Zulkarnaen (58 years old), to 15 years in prison after finding him guilty of hiding information about terrorist activities involved in the 2002 Bali bombings and harbouring terrorist members. He was detained in December 2020 in Sumatera after eluding capture for 18 years. He was among the first Indonesian militants to go to Afghanistan in the 1980s for training and later became an instructor at a military academy there for seven years.
b. On 9 March 22, Detachment 88 shot down a high-ranking member of the JI network identified as the initial SU in Sukoharjo, Central Java. He served as Amir Khidmat, where he acted as deputy for da’wah and information on the network.
The terrorism-related issue involving the Daesh is as follows:
a. On 7 February, National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) announced since 2011, more than 2,158 Indonesian citizens joined Daesh in Iraq and Syria, while between 10,000 to 20,000 individuals had attempted to join Daesh but were arrested. Most of them were believed to have been radicalised through the internet and social media.
The terrorism-related issue involving the Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) is as follows:
a. On 8 and 9 February 22, three suspected terrorists from the JAD group were arrested in Riau and Yogyakarta. The trio had pledged allegiance to late Daesh chief Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi and planned to conduct Amaliyah (suicide) terrorist attack on the police station. According to the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), more than ten suspected terrorists believed to be from the Merauke cell of Daesh and JAD were arrested in Merauke, Papua. All of them were non-Papuans and came from Sumatra and Java Island. They were targeting Papua for recruiting and militant training activity. The existence of the Merauke cell has displayed how extremist ideology spreads through social media, marriage and migration.
The Daesh media and propaganda in Indonesia are as follows:
a. On 17 January 22, Indonesian users on Daesh-linked Telegram groups discussed potential migration routes from Indonesia to the Philippines via Malaysia. They called on potential migrants to disguise their physical appearance as religious preachers to minimise suspicion. Users shared maps showing the Philippines and Indonesian territory and suggested crossing from Borneo, Indonesia, to Sabah, Malaysia.
b. On 2 February 22, an alleged female Daesh supporter, Ummu Azzam Hurairah, called on Indonesian jihadists, through Telegram message, to migrate to Sulawesi provinces to join MIT. Ummu Azzam, who claimed to have written the text from Syria, also urged Indonesian supporters to migrate to Syria, Iraq and the Philippines to seek martyrdom. She insisted that women should replace male combatants unwilling to join the armed jihad.
c. On 25 February 22, An-Najiyah Media Center issued threatening posters on the murder of the Indonesian Minister of Religious Affairs Yaqut Cholil Qoumas to his statement allegedly comparing Azan to the sound of dogs barking. Jihadists and Daesh supporters continued to incite the minister’s assassination and disseminate derogatory memes about him via social media platforms.
The Eastern Coast Security Command (ESSCOM) has released a new list of five most wanted terrorists. They are Ahadin Hussein, Ellam Sajirin, Ismurah Jirah, Majdid Said and Mundi Sawadjaan. However, Mundi Sawadjaan has appeared to be the ESSCOM’s most wanted terrorist due to his involvement in the 2019 suicide bombings at the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral in Jolo. Besides coordinating suicide attacks, he also facilitates the movement of FTFs, mainly Indonesians, into Sabah either through maritime routes or across the shared border between Malaysian and Indonesian Borneo. He is reportedly alive and may continue to recruit FTF for the ASG operations in the Southern Philippines.
What Can Be Expected In 2022
Terrorism trends and developments in times of the COVID-19 pandemic show that the year 2022 may project an apparent sharp decline in terrorist-related activities in Southern Philippines. This is due to the AFP’s ongoing Focused Military Operation (FMO) to overrun militant strongholds. The operation managed to pressure, defeat and force many militants, particularly from the BIFF and ASG, to surrender.
The new Emir of DI, Fahrudin Hadji Satar @ Abu Zacariah, may spark a new security concern in the Southern Philippines. Abu Zacaria, who is also the leader of the DI-Maute group, active in recruiting locals, mainly in Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte, to join the group. The new appointment would encourage Abu Zacaria to emulate the 2017 Marawi city siege. However, his new appointment may not be well accepted by ASG and BIFF as these groups have prospective leaders who are more credible than Abu Zacaria.
In Indonesia, the number of plots and terrorist attacks by local terrorists and militant groups has declined over the past two years. In 2021, Densus 88 arrested 370 suspected terrorists, where the percentage is higher than the 2020 arrests. However, based on the current trends, aside from targeting the police, terrorists and Daesh local supporters also aim at high profile individuals, such as the assassination threats against the minister of religious affairs. The latest development is attributed to the increasing activity of disseminating hatred through online means by Daesh local media operation. Such activity requires little expertise, mainly in editing and translating from Daesh – English propaganda version to Malay narratives and vice versa. Daesh media operation is another strategy to indoctrinate local supporters to call for a lone wolf attack during the holy month of Ramadhan.
The threat level of terrorism remained moderate, with the likelihood of an imminent attack. However, in 2021, only one case was reported involving a local woman who was deported from Syria and jailed upon her return for joining Daesh. In contrast to other countries that have refused to repatriate their nationals and have even deprived them of their citizenship, Malaysia has made a concerted effort to bring its citizens home. Repatriation of FTFs from Syria and Iraq is critical for domestic threat containment. Returning them to the country would enable the country to prosecute and dismantle their local networks. Malaysia and other countries, therefore, continue repatriating their citizens. Otherwise, their further exposure to other Daesh supporters within the camp may put them at risk of radicalization and forming networks with other Daesh followers.
Countries are beginning to cope and live with the COVID-19 pandemic. With the opening of countries’ borders, transmigration and cross-border activities are expected to resume their business. The decline in terrorism-related incidents was because of the restrictions imposed to contain the virus. Those restrictions have affected terrorists’ movement, training and meeting outside one’s country. Regionally, the Southern Philippines and several islands in Indonesia, especially Sulawesi, may become a possible destination for a terrorist to set foot.
As mentioned in the introduction, the GTI report sets the base to expect what 2022 will have in terms of terrorism. Based on the current development, terrorism will remain a serious threat in 2022. Additionally, geopolitical issues such as the conflict between Russia and Ukraine and other domestic crises have tickled the need to revisit the definition of terrorism. Lately, terrorism has become a widely used term in analysing incidents and attacks. Regardless, the current development promises that terrorism-related incidents will continue to be the primary events in 2022.