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Reme Ahmad
Thursday, Jul 3, 2014

Singapore, Asia

Fears more youngsters from Asia will be drawn in

The Straits Times | Reme Ahmad | Thursday, Jul 3, 2014

A member of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which has been renamed the Islamic State (IS), waving its flag in Raqa on Sunday, as the IS declared the setting up of its new Islamic caliphate.

The declaration of a caliphate by the Sunni jihadist group now known as the Islamic State (IS) has heightened concerns that more Muslim youngsters from this region would be attracted to join the militants, who make use of social media to spread their claims of success, experts and politicians say.

In doing so, the IS, which changed its name from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), hopes to revive the caliphate after the last one was abolished 90 years ago with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, they added.

"The declaration will make ISIS sympathisers and jihadists in Indonesia more sympathetic," said Jakarta-based terrorism analyst Solahudin. "Supporters of ISIS believe that it will form the seeds of the global caliphate, so this development will add to their confidence." The former Mufti of Perlis, Datuk Asri Zainul Abidin, said more Muslims in Malaysia could be lured to join battles in Iraq and Syria without realising that they are involved in terrorism.

Officials estimated at least 30 Malaysians and 56 Indonesians have gone to Syria. There are also foreign fighters from the United States and Britain.

A key concern is that these fighters will one day return to their home countries equipped with battle skills, including making improvised bombs.

India's former foreign minister Salman Khurshid said that while Indian Muslims had "trans-border sentimental attachments" in the past such as for the Palestinian cause, young Indians are not easily influenced by the IS declaration. "That's not my impression and I can speak for the Muslims of India of whom I have been fully aware," he told The Straits Times.

Experts say that in many places, young people who feel alienated by society are recruited easily, especially through the Internet. Social media such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube that have helped spread democracy are used as propaganda tools by IS.

"What really facilitated this three-, four-year-old conflict is social media, videos. There was no social media influence during the Afghan war," said Associate Professor Ahmed Salah Hashim, a Middle East and terrorism expert from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

The IS strategy of using religious language is another draw as Islamic parties in Indonesia, Malaysia and southern Philippines, among others, all harbour hopes of setting up an "Islamic state".

Still, the group's violent tactics are frowned upon by Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), which has been pushing for stricter Islamic law.

"We participate in elections and by-elections, so attacking others is not our way of achieving power," said PAS vice-president Salahuddin Ayub.

reme@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on July 01, 2014.
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