By Hata Wahari
The terror group Islamic State (IS) has named six Southeast Asian countries as part of its “East Asia wilayah” or region, Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told senior defense officials from 40 Muslim-majority nations in Riyadh.
Hishammuddin spoke Sunday during the kick-off meeting of the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC), an alliance of Sunni-dominated governments that claimed to be launching a four-pronged strategy to tackle terrorism “at its deepest roots.”
“Their self-declared caliphate spans Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Southern Thailand and Myanmar as they continue to lose territory in Iraq and Syria,” Hishammuddin said, according to a transcript of his speech received by BenarNews on Monday.
“Make no mistake, this development will not hamper our efforts, we will fight them on all fronts,” he said.
Hishammuddin said members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) had been closely monitoring the movements of IS and other terrorist groups in the region.
“Malaysia is aware that there is a widespread belief here that Iran has contributed to the instability in the region,” he said, without elaborating.
IS militants are now fighting from a small stretch of land inside Syria and the desert regions along the Iraq-Syria border, according to reports.
Two years ago, Hishammuddin said, he “consciously persuaded and convinced all 10 ASEAN Defense Ministers to jointly declare our strong condemnation” against IS.
“However, my fellow colleagues, it seems our biggest fear have become a reality,” he said. “It pains me to say that this threat has now reached our shores in Southeast Asia.”
Hishammuddin’s remarks were a rare public acknowledgement by a senior official of warnings already voiced by security experts about IS’s Asian ambitions.
In June, Jasminder Singh, a senior analyst at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, flagged the same six countries and Japan as nations that had been pinpointed by IS as part of its East Asia region.
“For foreign fighters coming into the region, this gives them an idea of what they will be in for, and what the targets are,” Singh told the Straits Times, a Singaporean news outlet.
Hishammuddin noted a meeting last week between Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who agreed to increase the number of security posts along their shared border.
The two nations, he said, had been involved in trilateral patrols with the Philippines as part of a months-old effort to rid the waters between their countries of threats from pro-IS extremists.
Hishammuddin said the landmark regional collaboration was needed after the Philippines had declared in late October an end to a “harrowing” five-month battle with IS-linked militants in the southern city of Marawi, during which 930 militants and 165 soldiers were killed.
“I believe one thing we can all agree on today is that we have a common enemy, and this has united us in more ways than one,” Hishammuddin said.
Neither Indonesia nor the Philippines are part of the IMCTC coalition, according to the coalition’s website.
The group’s first meeting, which came in the wake of a terror attack that killed more than 300 people in Egypt on Friday, resolved to stomp out terrorism by combating its ideology, communications and financing, as well as through military efforts.