How Taliban’s Win Might Influence Radical Muslims in Southeast Asia

The Taliban victory in Afghanistan could inspire radical Muslim groups in Southeast Asia to take up arms once more against their own governments, analysts say, and officials are on alert for potential violence.Scholars say Muslim rebel fronts, such as the Philippine-based Abu Sayyaf, a violent rebel organization known for kidnapping tourists, and the Indonesian militant group Jemaah Islamiyah, a suspected plotter of the deadly Bali bombings of 2002, will feel empowered by the August 15 ascent of the Taliban to carry out localized attacks such as bombings.”Taliban or no Taliban, we have always considered local extremism as a big concern,” Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told the Philippine News Agency on August 27. He noted agreements with Indonesia and Malaysia to share information and protect their sea borders.Media outlets quote Indonesian officials as saying they, too, are on guard, and a counterterrorism police detachment is monitoring social media for any clues. Indonesia and Malaysia are predominantly Muslim countries. Many in the southern part of the Philippines are Muslim as well.FILE – Police escort a suspected militant at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Tangerang, Indonesia, March 18, 2021. Suspected militants arrested in raids at that time were believed to be connected to Jemaah Islamiyah extremists.Al-Qaida’s backingExtremist groups advocate Muslim independent states in Southeast Asia, a region of 660 million people that includes several key U.S. allies. Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah, among others, have been backed by al-Qaida, a terrorist organization that the Taliban once allowed to shelter in Afghanistan, according to Southeast Asia scholars.“In terms of kinship and solidarity for these groups, there is a degree of support,” said Enrico Cau, Southeast Asia specialist with the Taiwan Strategy Research Association,  referring to the Taliban.“Although the Taliban doesn’t have a direct influence in the region, of course they exert a certain amount of indirect influence, which can be capitalized by the groups that are actually present in the region like al-Qaida or Abu Sayyaf,” Cau told VOA. Al-Qaida has helped rebels before in Indonesia and the Philippines.FILE – Muslims pray spaced apart to help curb the spread of coronavirus outbreak during an Eid al-Fitr prayer marking the end of Ramadan at Al Akbar mosque in Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia, May 13, 2021.Mainstream Muslims in Malaysia worry about how the Taliban will treat Afghan women, said Ibrahim Suffian, program director with the polling group Merdeka Center in Kuala Lumpur. Women throughout Muslim Southeast Asia are able to work and attend school.Monitoring developmentsRadical Muslims in Malaysia have “applauded” the Taliban’s victory, though, and the government of the largely Muslim country will pay close attention to any cross-border influence of Afghanistan’s new leadership, Suffian said.“I’m sure they’re monitoring what’s happening,” he said. “I think there is a long-term concern that this will inspire more radicalized conservative types … to study religion in Pakistan and parts of India, so I think that has a long-term effect on the Muslim community here.”Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines still have more control over local extremists than did the Afghan government that was deposed last month, Cau said. The Philippines would even allow entry to Afghans fleeing from fear of persecution, a presidential office spokesman in Manila said.About 20 Muslim rebel groups still operate in the southern Philippines, a region known for five decades of periodic violence and 120,000 deaths, though the formation of a Muslim autonomous region in 2018 has eased some of that tension.

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