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Signs of collaboration among terrorists in Southeast Asia inspires more resistance

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Despite the progress the Philippines and her sister nations of Southeast Asia are making in their battles against terror, challenges remain.  The threat of international terrorism still hangs over the region, despite a determined effort to consolidate resources and present a unified front against a common threat.

Of course, terrorism differs from country to country.  Each nation has different conditions that color its own internal threat. But, in general, the pall of international terrorism creates a similar anxiety throughout the region.

Indonesia and the Philippines, in particular, have suffered most from terrorist events.  The lives of hundreds of citizens and tourists have been lost in a number of terrorist attacks in the two countries.

Both countries have their own indigenous radical groups with their own specific agendas.  The proximity of the two nations with long, rugged coastlines has allowed terrorists to cross back and forth with relative ease.  Links among violent Islamic radicals and extremist organizations in the different countries remain a serious security threat to both regional and Western targets.  These networks have launched several terrorist attacks using connections often based on radical school ties and shared training experiences in Afghanistan, the southern Philippines and Indonesia’s Muslim-Christian violence in the areas of Maluku and central Sulawesi.

The Philippines, in particular, has experienced a disturbing trend of growing cooperation among the Islamist terrorist groups from around the region.

Jemaah Islamiyah, the Abu Sayyaf Group and the Rajah Sulaiman Movement have shown a new and unsettling willingness to work together
Both countries have expressed the need for more effective anti-terrorism legislation to deal with the growing threat within their borders.

In Indonesia, despite its success in arresting and jailing significant numbers of terrorists, its counter-terrorist efforts remain hampered by the lack of meaningful internal coordination and corruption that puts further limits on strained government resources.

The Indonesian government has received considerable pressure to submit a revision of the 2003 Counter-terrorism Law to the House of Representatives.  Indonesian authorities recognize the need to revise the law to include standards for introducing evidence and to add guidelines that will help to prosecute terrorism cases more effectively.

In the Philippines, part of the new law would include additional military and police units to combat Muslim extremism.  An extensive overhaul of the military is already underway.  It needs better equipment to deal with local insurgents with ties to foreign extremist networks like al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah.

According to a high security official, the new units will improve intelligence by forging stronger ties with neighboring countries in the region to facilitate the exchange of information and technology.

In Indonesia, where a crack anti-terror squad and widespread arrests have cut deeply into terrorist capabilities, the attraction of suicide attacks remains disturbingly high.  A recent survey revealed that 11 percent of Indonesians believe that suicide attacks against civilian targets are sometimes justifiable.

Although the number is relatively small, the findings of the Indonesian Survey Institute are a wake-up call for leaders and moderate clerics who fear a tiny radical Muslim fringe may be making inroads into the masses.

Since then, prominent Muslim leaders have been recruited to help the government discourage youth from joining terrorist groups.  A number of Muslim leaders have publicly acknowledged that suicide bombings can never be justified on religious grounds.

Because the threat of new terrorism persists throughout Southeast Asia, all countries are showing a willingness to cooperate in regional counter-terrorism efforts.  ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum) are just two of the regional groups that have become part of a unified regional front to stand up against the menacing threat of terrorism.

By MW




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