Paris Attacks Put Focus on Southeast Asia's Terrorism Fight

Global Leaders Show Support for France
  • Countering militancy may be discussed at Asia-based summits
  • G-20 earlier agreed to do more to combat terrorism financing

As global leaders arrive in Asia for a series of summits, pressure is increasing on Southeast Asian nations to cooperate more to combat terrorism -- including by sharing information on financing -- after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

With Group of 20 leaders pledging in Turkey to coordinate more to cut off money flows to terrorist groups, heads of Southeast Asian nations meeting in the Philippines and then Malaysia face renewed scrutiny of the threat posed by local fighters returning from the battlefields of Syria and Iraq, alongside home-grown radicalism.

Joining the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Manila is U.S. President Barack Obama, who declared Islamic State “the face of evil” after at least 129 people were killed in a series of attacks in the French capital. The ambushes were “planned in Syria, organized in Belgium, and carried out in France,” French President Francois Hollande said, highlighting the need for cross-border approaches to countering militarism.

“Southeast Asian governments should reflect deeply on what happened in Paris and understand there’s a new threat landscape emerging in Southeast Asia,” said Rohan Gunaratna, head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research in Singapore. “There needs to be a shift from rhetoric into action. There needs to an understanding that there should be a common framework for fighting terrorism in Asean,” he said, referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

APEC Statement

APEC leaders will condemn the Paris attacks, the Associated Press reported, citing a draft of a statement to be issued at their summit.

Attacks in Southeast Asia -- home to about 15 percent of the world’s 1.57 billion Muslims, according to the Pew Research Center -- have declined over the past decade as security forces arrested or killed militants. There is concern, however, that returning Islamic State militants could stage attacks or re-energize groups like Jemaah Islamiyah, responsible for the deadly 2002 nightclub bombings on the Indonesian resort island of Bali.

A man puts an Australian flag across the street from the Bali Bombing Memorial Monument in Kuta.
A man puts an Australian flag across the street from the Bali Bombing Memorial Monument in Kuta.
Photographer: Agung Parameswara/Getty Images

Southeast Asia also faces a number of long-running armed insurgencies featuring Muslim minorities seeking greater autonomy or independence, such as in the southern parts of Thailand and the Philippines.

Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein warned on Monday that his country’s leaders were being targeted by Islamic State, a message he said was important to reveal in order to instill a sense of urgency in combating such groups. The country’s anti-terrorism chief Ayob Khan said arrested militants linked to a local Islamic State cell revealed plans to kidnap officials to exchange for jailed colleagues, the Star newspaper reported.

Weapons Smuggling

“I see certain areas in this region are not being managed well, particularly Southern Thailand and southern Philippines, not to mention the free movement of people and smuggling of weapons,” Hishammuddin was quoted as saying in the Star. “These are all issues, which need to be taken seriously based on the recent developments in Europe and the Middle East."

President Joko Widodo of Indonesia -- home to more Muslims than any other nation -- on Saturday urged the international community to “wage war against terrorism.”

The global terrorism threat was front and center at the G-20 meeting held in the days after the attacks across Paris. Leaders called for better coordination and exchange of information to cut off terrorist funding and a more comprehensive approach on addressing the conditions conducive to terrorism. They will look at tightening borders to detect travel by extremists and bolstering aviation safety.

‘Growing Flow’

"We are concerned over the acute and growing flow of foreign terrorist fighters and the threat it poses for all States, including countries of origin, transit and destination," the leaders said. "The continued and recent terrorist attacks all across the world have shown once again the need for increased international cooperation and solidarity in the fight against terrorism."

Authorities in Manila stepped up security measures after the Paris attacks. The Philippines is home to a decades-long Muslim insurgency in its southern province of Mindanao. More police officers and soldiers were deployed on the streets and barriers put up, Philippine National Police spokesman Chief Superintendent Wilben Mayor said Monday.

Despite APEC’s traditional focus on economic issues, ministers from member nations raised the topic of terrorism, APEC Secretariat Executive Director Alan Bollard said in an interview in Manila on Monday.

Terrorist Financing

"We’ve just had every minister in the room express their sadness and disappointment as a result of those Paris attacks," he said. "We’ll see whether they will come out with something in the statement. But quite apart from that, our focus continues to be on economics. We do look at counter terrorist financing -- that’s really the closest we will get to those issues."

Corporate chiefs attending the Manila gathering also talked about the killings. Speaking on the sidelines of the meeting, Deutsche Post AG Chief Executive Officer Frank Appel said security was “very high on our agenda” although the company has seen no particular effect on business from the Paris attacks.

"I was in Paris on Saturday and it’s obviously a tragedy,” said Olivier Charmeil, executive vice president of vaccines at Sanofi. “What I can sense is a higher sense of solidarity and of course I think this is very warmly welcomed in those difficult circumstances.”

Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group, urged Southeast Asian leaders to also focus on other challenges to the region, saying radicalization and the threat from terrorism is “not an enormous problem in Southeast Asia.”

"The danger in spending too much time focusing on security and terrorism is that it allows you to avoid the longer term structural changes that are really desperately important," Bremmer said. "None of that stuff happens when you start to get distracted with security."

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