A threat by Philippine militants to kill a German hostage in a show of solidarity with Islamic State is the latest sign that the Middle East group`s brand of radicalism is winning recruits in Asia and posing a growing security risk in the region.
Over 100 people from Southeast Asia’s Muslim majority countries of Indonesia and Malaysia and the southern Philippine region are believed by security officials and analysts to have gone to join Islamic State’s fight in Iraq and Syria.
Malaysian and Indonesian militants have discussed forming a 100-strong Malay-speaking unit within Islamic State in Syria, according to a report from a well-known security group released this week.
Admiral Samuel Locklear, who heads the US Armed Forces’ Pacific Command, said on Thursday around 1,000 recruits from India to the Pacific may have joined Islamic State to fight in Syria or Iraq. He did not specify the countries or give a time-frame.
“That number could get larger as we go forward,” Locklear told reporters at the Pentagon. In addition to India, the Hawaii-based Pacific Command’s area of responsibility covers 36 countries, including Australia, China and other Pacific Ocean states. The command does not cover Pakistan.
In the region, thousands have sworn oaths of loyalty to Islamic State as local militant groups capitalise on a brand that has been fuelled by violent online videos and calls to jihad through social media, security analysts say. Security officials say this has disturbing implications for the region, especially when battle-hardened fighters return home from the Middle East.
The Philippines’ Abu Sayyaf group, which has earlier claimed links with al Qaeda and is led by a one-armed septuagenarian, has threatened to kill one of the two Germans it holds hostage by October 10, according to messages distributed on Twitter. As well as $5.6 million in ransom, the group demanded that Germany halt its support for the US-led bombing campaign launched against Islamic State this week.
A spokeswoman for the German foreign ministry told a regular press briefing in Berlin that “threats are no appropriate way of influencing German foreign policy”, and that the ministry’s crisis group was working on the case.