October 24, 2001 | News Releases on Department of Homeland Security

Southeast Asia Another Front In War On Terrorism, Anaysts Say

WASHINGTON, Oct. 24, 2001-The Bush administration should consider Southeast Asia another front in its war on terrorism, as the region is home to a large number of Muslim fundamentalist groups sympathetic to Osama bin Laden, a new Heritage Foundation paper says.

Dana Dillon and Paolo Pasicolan, both of Heritage's Asian Studies Center, say the war could encounter some of its most complicated challenges in Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim nation, and Malaysia and the Philippines, where fundamentalist Islamic groups-some with well-documented links to bin Laden-vie for power.

Numerous groups in the region could provide bin Laden and other al-Qaeda terrorists with safe haven and bases of operations, they say. In addition, corrupt law enforcement and backlogged judicial systems will make it hard for the United States, even in cooperation with other countries, to combat terrorism in the region.

Unlike the Taliban, Southeast Asian governments have opposed terrorists and their activities for decades, although sometimes not vigorously enough. But any help they receive from the West must not make them look as if they are U.S. puppets, Dillon and Pasicolan say. Otherwise, the stability of these governments may be threatened. At the same time, the United States shouldn't let the war on terrorism be used by ruling parties to eradicate legitimate opposition. Malaysia, for example, has arrested 10 people under its Internal Security Act but hasn't charged any of them with terrorist-related crimes. Police there claim the 10 belong to radical Islamic groups, but at least four belong to the mainstream Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, the largest opposition party to Prime Minister Mahatir Mohamad.

The United States can help prevent such situations by targeting only global networks known to use violence and terrorism to achieve political goals, Dillon and Pasicolan say. This does not include the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, but it does include Abu Sayyaf, the Philippine organization founded by a bin Laden lieutenant.

Abu Sayyaf, a small group in a nation that is only 5 percent Muslim, uses robbery and kidnapping to generate the funds needed to finance other terrorist activities. The United States should encourage governments in Southeast Asia to act in concert to eliminate local terrorist threats, Dillon and Pasicolan say. It should support the Philippines' effort to form a regional anti-terrorism coalition and work through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to implement a "no-ransom" policy to thwart the efforts of groups such as Abu Sayyaf.

In addition, they say, the United States should help train military leaders and donate excess defense articles-weapons that may be obsolete for U.S. forces but an upgrade for countries in Asia-to aid in anti-terrorism efforts. As a last resort, it should stand ready to act militarily if terrorist groups threaten the stability of legitimate governments.

"Terrorism is a borderless crime," Dillon and Pasicolan say. "It requires international solutions. But governments must be held accountable for eliminating their local terrorist threats. The United States should help, but its support must be geared toward assisting the countries of Southeast Asia in finding local solutions."

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