ISIS Increases Foothold in South-East Asia

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has released a new propaganda video titled “Education in the Caliphate” showing – for the first time – Indonesian and Malay-speaking children undergoing weapons training. The footage uploaded in February depicts dozens of boys who appear to be aged 10 years or less, and presumably in territory controlled by the terrorist group.

Islamic State Increases Foothold in Southeast Asia screen grab 01

This screen grab from an ISIS propaganda video shows underage boys undergoing weapons training on AK-variant assault rifles.

The adults in the footage speak heavily-accented Bahasa Indonesia, and not Malay as earlier news reports stated. The men are likely from Indonesia’s Sumatra or Central Sulawesi region. The interchangeable use of Bahasa Indonesia and Melayu in their propaganda pamphlets shows their disdain for the “man-made” concept of the nation states, which are supposed to be replaced by the global caliphate.

Islamic State Increases Foothold in Southeast Asia screen grab 02

This screen grab from an ISIS propaganda video shows underage boys undergoing weapons training.

While there has been ample evidence of Indonesian and Malay citizens among ISIS fighters, so far, no Thai citizens have been identified amongst them. Most analysts believe the likelihood of IS gaining a foothold in southern Thailand is low, as the separatist movement is more ethno-nationalist in nature and transnational jihadist groups such as Al-Qaeda have failed to penetrate it in the past. Moreover, the insurgency is intertwined with organised crime syndicates that control lucrative smuggling of oil and other contraband. Although rarely publicised, the violence in the Deep South is often linked to turf wars between competing gangs involved in prostitution and drug trafficking.

Nevertheless, throughout the region, returning fighters continue to pose a terror threat, while self-radicalised individuals may also be influenced by ISIS propaganda to carry out “lone wolf” attacks in their home countries.