The terrorism threat to the Asia Pacific region is serious, imminent and on a growth trajectory, say scholars from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) in the latest book titled Handbook of Terrorism in the Asia-Pacific.
Published by international terrorism expert Professor Rohan Gunaratna and other scholars at NTU's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), the new book aims to better prepare governments on the escalating terror threat.
The authors point out that while the threat of terrorism internationally shows little signs of abating, countries in Southeast Asia like Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines and Singapore, are increasingly becoming high-priority terror targets.
Just last month, Malaysia's counter-terrorism unit had warned that terrorists well-armed with grenades are already in the country and more lone-wolf attacks could potentially happen.
Regional attacks earlier this year include the Puchong Nightclub blast in Malaysia in June and the Jakarta blasts in Indonesia in January.
Prof Gunaratna said that unlike the days of Al Qaeda where the removal of its senior leadership can reduce terror threats, terrorist cells now number in the thousands and are formed by self-radicalised individuals and groups which are not coordinated by any central body.
Stopping the advance of the Islamic State (IS) into the Asia Pacific will require more than just the removal of its leadership, said Prof Gunaratna. Government agencies will have to focus on monitoring and rehabilitating returning jihadists, while stepping up education efforts to prevent self-radicalisation of their citizens.
Most comprehensive book on terrorism in the Asia-Pacific
Edited by Prof Gunaratna and Miss Kam Li Yee Stefanie, an Associate Research Fellow at RSIS, the handbook is the most comprehensive account of terrorism in the Asia-Pacific. It provides in-depth knowledge to governments and policymakers on how to better manage the growing threat posed by groups such as the IS.
Earlier this month, the plan for a rocket attack on Singapore's iconic Marina Bay Sands by a Batam-based terror cell was thwarted by Indonesia authorities. However, the severity of the threat to Singapore has not diminished as the IS is determined to hit the Lion City, said the authors.
"What has happened in the foiled Batam attack was that Syrian-based Muhammad Bahrun Naim, the directing figure of the cell in Batam, had identified Marina Bay Sands as an iconic Jewish target," Prof Gunaratna explained, "though the facilitating cell in Batam waited for the IS attack team that never came."
Prof Gunaratna and Miss Kam strongly urge governments in the region, including Singapore, to build strong counter-terrorism capabilities.
"Countries in this region have two growing threats that they will need to address - the self-radicised individuals who carry out lone-wolfs attacks in the name of Islam and well-organised groups of militants. In future, those returnees from Syria and Iraq will threaten the Asia Pacific," said Prof Gunaratna.
"Unlike the IS militants which can be fought by means of a military campaign in the Middle East, the terrorist elements the Asia Pacific is dealing with are inconspicuous and hard to detect, as they blend in with the rest of the community until they decide to strike."
On building anti-terror capabilities, Miss Kam said, "What we need now is a concerted effort by governments and anti-terrorism organisations to boost their intelligence gathering operations and share information with each other, continue to counter IS online radicalisation efforts with the right messages and education; and to engage the vulnerable populations, especially youths."
Book invaluable and timely guide
Mr Amrin Amin, Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore, called the handbook "an important guide to inform governments and their partners seeking to manage the emerging IS threat across the Asia-Pacific region."
"The book attempts to go beyond the media headlines and simplistic analyses based on alarmist narratives. It provides a historical overview of the threat from each of the countries across the Asia-Pacific and examines the operational and ideological threat of the existing local insurgencies and terrorist campaigns.
"Given the rising implications of terrorism and extremism across the Asia-Pacific, this book is an invaluable contribution to the field of security. Its detailed country-by-country assessment of the terrorist and extremist threat in the region provide policymakers, journalists, scholars and businesses a better understanding of the threat landscape and come up with more nuanced ways to better manage the threat in the Asia-Pacific," said Mr Amrin.
Ambassador Ong Keng Yong, the Executive Deputy Chairman of RSIS, NTU, described the new book published by Imperial College Press as invaluable and "a timely resource for those dedicated to researching and managing the current and emerging threat". Ambassador Ong added that it delineates the new Asia-Pacific threat environment and "provides a range of tools on how to respond to the emerging threat from the Islamic State".
About Nanyang Technological University
A research-intensive public university, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) has 33,500 undergraduate and postgraduate students in the colleges of Engineering, Business, Science, Humanities, Arts, & Social Sciences, and its Interdisciplinary Graduate School. It has a new medical school, the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, set up jointly with Imperial College London.
NTU is also home to world-class autonomous institutes - the National Institute of Education, S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Earth Observatory of Singapore, and Singapore Centre for Environmental Life Sciences Engineering - and various leading research centres such as the Nanyang Environment & Water Research Institute (NEWRI), Energy Research Institute @ NTU (ERI@N) and the Institute on Asian Consumer Insight (ACI).
Ranked 13th in the world, NTU has also been ranked the world's top young university for the last two years running. The University's main campus has been named one of the Top 15 Most Beautiful in the World. NTU also has a campus in Novena, Singapore's medical district.
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