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Terrorism: A Threat to Regional Security in Southeast Asia

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The establishment of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1967 which subsequently created the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (AFTA). The organization soon evolved as ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. This marks the Southeast Asian states had developed regional institutions that gave the region increasing coherence as a single political, economic and even security entity. However, Southeast Asia (SEA) is gradually the region of choice for radical Muslims because of Indonesia's world largest Muslim country. The region also as an attraction of ISIS as it's comprises a portion of dedicated Muslim of Malaysia, Philippines & Thailand. Historically, Islam was brought to South East Asia (SEA) through traders from the Middle East and South Asia. As a result, South East Asia nations have variety of religions namely, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. Muslim populations are approximately 5% in Philippines & Thailand, 65% in Malaysia and Roughly 88% of Indonesia's population is Muslim and the nation is home to about 13% of the world's Muslims. Indonesia is world's largest Muslim country.

Just recently, the terrorist Abu Sayyaf group in the Philippines pledges allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq & Syria (ISIS) and they wreak havoc in Islamic City of the Southern Philippines. It was recently known that radical foreigners from Middle East, Chechnya, Saudis, Indonesians and Malaysians were among the fatalities. Thus, for the first time, the Southeast Asian countries could face a major security threats in the region. I would argue that the terrorism threat in the region could prosper and it will be the expansion of the Caliphate in East Asia if the Southeast Asia nations will not act collectively.

The purpose of this paper is to determine the condition that fuels the terrorist groups and how the SEA poorly or effectively responds to the threat of terror. Although, nation armed forces diminishes the no. of terrorist but still terrorist can restructure and reequip and come back stronger. As stated above, this paper will limit its analysis on the four countries of ASEAN as they have recurrent terror activities. In order to prevent the terrorist groups from achieving its goals, it is necessary to determine the factors that could aggravate the terror threat and reciprocate with corresponding schemes to minimize or eradicate the threat. Specifically, the following questions are to be pursued to support the main argument: What are the factors that contribute to the growth of terrorism in SEA?, what are the approaches to counter the factors of terrorism in SEA?, and under what conditions the ASEAN can work together?

Terrorism in Southeast Asia

Terrorism has been evolving in the Southeast Asia. In this region, terrorism used religions or beliefs as elements of their struggle in committing violence. Terror groups wanted to attract international attention to legitimize their terrorist acts utilizing the term Jihad, holy war, martyrdom, or the last resort to fight against infidels. In the figure below, this was borrowed from Marin, Patricia Vasquez in her paper:

Fig 1: Drivers of SEA Terrorism

The figure illustrates that terrorist group can infiltrate into a society through weak system of a government. Terrorist would tend to use weak countries as the location of terrorism movement. This is because a country's' internal weakness such as political instability, rebellion, ethnic/religious clash, corruption, extremist and militants, fragile legal system will open an opportunity to terrorist groups to infiltrate a country. For example, Moro rebels in Philippines has permitted Al Qaeda's international terrorist to enter into Philippines and provide location as training sites.

Drivers of Southeast Asia Terrorism


Ethnic or religious disputes have proven to be lethal in Southeast Asia and sometimes it is one of the issues that are significant source of domestic tension. In figure 2, it shows the diversity of religious ethnicity of Southeast Asia :

Figure 2: Religious Diversity

Though the figure shows religious not ethnicity per se, but still the diversity of religious could create conflict in the region. In Malaysia, the tension between the Malay majority wherein 70% of them are Muslim created tension with the Chinese community in the country. The accusations of racism curtail from racial preferences embodied within the social and economic policy of the Malaysian government. Discrimination is widespread and publicly displayed and accepted. Establishment are charging non-Malays more for services is very common in the country. In Indonesia, recurring tension and widespread anti-Chinese violence that destroyed only the property and the confidence of the Chinese business community in regard to their future as citizens of Indonesia. Violence against the Chinese seemed to trigger a chain reaction of ethnic and religious conflict involving moderate Muslim. The rise and potential radical Muslims looms in the province of Aceh wherein they implemented the Sharia with brutality. In Thailand also have ethnic tensions on their own. Thailand's three southernmost provinces have been the hub of spiraling violence that has kept a low profile but taken a high toll. There are series of attacks by improvised explosive devices and assaults on targeting monks and moderate Muslims are regular occurrences. The area was once peaceful and has harmonious relations between the region's Buddhists and Muslims have degenerated into hostile mistrust. In the Philippines, Muslim separatist's groups aims for separate Moro state. They have been fighting the government for 4 decades already. However, ethnic feuds on Muslims and Christians supplements the secessionism and extremism in the country. This created confusion on how to address the issue of Muslim insurgency in the Southern Philippines. The ethnic and religious conflict in southern Philippines illustrates more complaints on economic development and autonomy with religious and cultural narratives about individual and collective identity, the role of religion in public life, and transnational trends of war and peace.


Boundaries and territory are broadly accepted by the Southeast Asian states. Porous boundaries are



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