As the world becomes more complex, the threat of terrorism has ascended to its zenith. Each sovereign nation faces the daunting challenge of securing her borders and sustaining peace and stability within. User friendly technology, social media and global access in transport have given terrorists the opportunity to strike selected targets and then celebrate via Facebook! Since proclaiming a worldwide Islamic Caliphate in 2014, ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria with origins dating to 1999) continues to defiantly dominate certain regions of the world, and gradually extend its ‘reach’ to new locations such as Libya, Afghanistan, Nigeria and South Asia.
One must note that millions of Muslims live in peace all over the world and have contributed immensely to their respective societies, drawing from their heritage which is indeed rich in culture, art and literature. These folk strongly condemn the deviant Salafi-Jihadist doctrine of ISIS.
According to an estimate by the CIA the combat ready forces of ISIS in Iran and Syria stand at 31,000 fighters, with a majority being foreigners. Some say the number is near 50,000.
Intelligence reports indicate that about 3,400 fighters are from Western Nations. The outfit continues its ‘psychological warfare’ by displaying brutally graphic beheadings of soldiers, journalists and aid workers on YouTube. Another method is to deliberately destroy ancient works of art and sculpture with the idea of ‘cleansing’ other cultures.
Amnesty International has charged ISIS with ethnic cleansing. Since 2014 the caliphate has begun to mint its own coins in the style of the bygone Umayyad caliphate of the 7th century. The ISIS combat capability boasts of ground troops, suicide bombers, IEDs and even chemical weapons including mustard gas. They used water as a ‘weapon’ when they flooded an area in Fallujah, where 12,000 people lost their homes. Christians in controlled areas pay a tax known as Jizya. Potential fighters are enticed to join with the promise of being granted the chance of sexually violating female captives, which they have done with sadistic pleasure.
Countries in the South East Asian region have for decades been in turmoil from local insurgent groups, which has negatively impacted their economies. In the past three years the ISIS ideology seems to have somehow filtered into the minds of certain segments of people, who are already living a lifestyle of poverty and combating prejudice (at least in their perception). Such men and women with low self esteem and feelings of bias and animosity towards their own governments, become perfect candidates for ISIS recruiters.
Women are encouraged to become ‘good wives of jihad’ by coming forward to take up roles as cooks and medics, though equality for women is strongly opposed. These ‘rejected citizens’ earnestly embrace the ‘comradeship’ of ISIS and the lucrative dollars. The Philippines based group Isnilon Totoni Hapilon swore steadfast allegiance to the Islamic Caliphate and its Leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2014. Subsequently they began to abduct people for ransom, to fund their ongoing operations. This paved way, in 2015, for the formation of Ansar Khalifa in the Philippines.
ISIS agents and members of ‘sleeping cells’ have been able to convince and enlist 500 combatants from Pakistan, 200 from Malaysia and 500 from Indonesia according to a UN report.
Pakistan continues to be embroiled in her own border disputes with India and other disruptive insurgent networks. We cannot forget that the world’s most wanted master of terror Bin Laden remained elusive for a long time in the safety of his ‘consolidated’ residence, until he was swiftly dispatched from the face of the earth. Some speculate that scattered members of Al Qaeda, may extend ‘non combat’ support to ISIS by acting as couriers and running safe houses and acting as guides to ISIS recruiters helping them to integrate into local communities without raising suspicion. According to TRAC (Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium) the Jundallah (soldiers of god) group in Pakistan has strong bonds with ISIS.
India has come under the spotlight with 18 of their citizens being in ISIS ranks and 43 Sri Lankan men are suspected to be combatants for ISIS in the Syrian region. Sri Lanka is recovering after a prolonged armed conflict that lasted three agonizing decades which claimed many lives leaving behind hundreds with emotional trauma.
According to counter terrorism expert Professor Rohan Gunaratne, the ISIS affiliated volunteers may increase in the future after being radicalized. The caliphate has a list of nations they hope to invade by 2020; Sri Lanka and India are also on the list as stated by Andrew Hosken of the BBC. One can assume that ISIS will step up its enlistment drive. Given this backdrop it is paramount that all communities bond together, and be alert to filter and mitigate such threats on Sri Lankan soil, along with defense and law enforcement agencies.
Pic courtesy: thefederalist.com