Terrorism in Southeast Asia

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Terrorism in Southeast Asia
Bruce Vaughn, Coordinator
Specialist in Asian Affairs
Emma Chanlett-Avery
Specialist in Asian Affairs
Ben Dolven
Section Research Manager
Mark E. Manyin
Specialist in Asian Affairs
Michael F. Martin
Analyst in Asian Trade and Finance
Larry A. Niksch
Specialist in Asian Affairs
October 16, 2009

Congressional Research Service
7-5700
www.crs.gov
RL34194

CRS Report for Congress
Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress

Terrorism in Southeast Asia

Summary
Since September 2001, the United States has increased focus on radical Islamist and terrorist groups in Southeast Asia, particularly those in the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore. Southeast Asia has been a base for terrorist operations. Al Qaeda penetrated the region by establishing local cells, training Southeast Asians in its camps in Afghanistan, and by financing and cooperating with indigenous radical Islamist groups. Indonesia and the southern Philippines have been particularly vulnerable to penetration by Islamic terrorist groups. Members of one indigenous network, Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), which has had extensive ties to Al Qaeda, helped two of the September 11, 2001 hijackers and have confessed to plotting and carrying out attacks against Western targets. These include the deadliest terrorist attack since September 2001: the October 2002 bombing in Bali, Indonesia, that killed approximately 200 people, mostly Westerners. Since the Bali bombing in 2002, crackdowns by various governments in the region—encouraged and in some cases supported by the U.S. government and military— are believed to have weakened JI to such an extent that it essentially is no longer a regional organization, but rather is one confined to Indonesia, with some individuals still operating in the southern Philippines. The degrading of JI’s leadership structure is believed to have altered the group’s strategy. More violent, anti-Western JI members have formed breakaway cells. In September 2009, Indonesian authorities claimed they had killed the leader of one such cell, Noordin Mohammed Top. Noordin is believed to have been responsible for organizing the nearsimultaneous July 17, 2009 bombings of the J.W. Marriot and Ritz-Carlton hotels in Jakarta. The bombings were the first successful anti-Western terrorist attack in Indonesia in four years. Their sophistication triggered speculation that Al Qaeda had renewed ties with Top. To combat the threat, the U.S. has pressed countries in the region to arrest suspected terrorist individuals and organizations, funded and trained Indonesia’s elite counter-terrorist unit, and deployed troops to the southern Philippines to advise the Philippine military in their fight against the violent Abu Sayyaf Group. It has also launched a Regional Maritime Security Initiative to enhance security in the Straits of Malacca, increased intelligence sharing operations, restarted military-military relations with Indonesia, and provided or requested from Congress substantial aid for Indonesia and the Philippines. Also, since 2001, Thailand and the United States have substantially increased their anti-terrorism cooperation.

The responses of countries in the region to both the threat and to the U.S. reaction generally have varied with the intensity of their concerns about the threat to their own stability and domestic politics. In general, Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines were quick to crack down on militant groups and share intelligence with the United States and Australia, whereas Indonesia began to do so only after attacks or arrests revealed the severity of the threat to its citizens. Since that time, Indonesian authorities have been aggressive in their pursuit of terrorists and extremist groups. Many governments view increased American pressure and military presence in their region with ambivalence because of the political sensitivity of the issue with both mainstream Islamic and...
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