Saturday, March 14, 2009

Terrorism in S.E. Asia

The Straits Times (Singapore)
Saturday, March 14, 2009

New 'Al-Qaeda' Group Formed In South-East Asia

Shefali Rekhi, Assistant Foreign Editor

A NEW group calling itself the Al-Qaeda in South-east Asia has
tried to mobilise support from the region for jihad in Pattani,
where insurgents continue to battle the Thai government in the
Muslim-majority south.

The group is the second to use terror network Al-Qaeda's name in
the region, after escaped militant mastermind Noordin Top formed
a Jemaah Islamiah (JI) splinter group, called the Al-Qaeda for
the Malay Archipelago, about three years ago.

The existence of this new terror outfit became known when its
leader - who identified himself as Abu Ubaidah - was interviewed
last May by a Khattab Media Publication, though little is known
about it.

Analysts have described the setting up of the group as a feeble
attempt by hardliners to use the conflict in southern Thailand
to rally jihadists in South-east Asia. They note that two
hardline Islamist magazines in Indonesia - the Jihadmagz and the
Sabili - had also recently published articles on southern

The interview, which was posted online, was picked up by five
Malaysian blogs and four Indonesian websites, said Ms Pacharapun
Tinnabal from the United States Embassy in Bangkok.

The official, who was speaking in her personal capacity,
mentioned the new terror group at a Singapore conference on the
insurgency in southern Thailand, which was organised by the
Institute of Southeast Asian Studies this week.

Security experts are aware of the group, but say there was not
much to suggest a real threat.

In the interview, Abu Ubaidah urged Muslims in Indonesia and
Malaysia to join the struggle in Pattani, which he described as
a legitimate jihad and not a nationalist insurgency.

Among websites where the interview could be found was the
hardline Islamist Arrahmah website, which is manned by
Indonesian Muhammad Jibril Abdul Rahman. He is the son of Abu
Jibril, a hardline JI preacher who mentored escaped terrorist
Mas Selamat Kastari.

Terror experts have tried to identify Abu Ubaidah's origin, but
it remains unclear.

'My guess is that he could be from Malaysia, going by the
language used in the interviews - Bahasa Melayu,' said the
International Crisis Group's Ms Sidney Jones, who has researched
terror groups in South-east Asia.

Dr Rohan Gunaratna, head of the International Centre for
Political Violence and Terrorism Research, said it could be
ideologically connected to Al-Qaeda, but there does not seem to
be a real link.

'We don't know about its terror activities but it could be
involved in some fund-raising,' he said.

Ms Jones also noted that apart from a few other postings through
Khattab Media between April and August last year, little news
has emerged about the group.

In one of the postings, the group highlighted a meeting of the
'Mujahidin Shura Council' on July 24 last year, when it decided
to launch an operation called Tawbah (repentance) in January
this year.

The names of four leaders were announced and it listed Abu
Ubaidah as an 'assistant commander'.

These postings appear to be an effort by a group in Malaysia to
test the waters, said Mr Anthony Davis of Jane's Intelligence

'The only concrete element is the promise of the Tawbah
operation in January, which must have been a remarkably low-key
affair or more likely never happened,' he added.

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