Terrorists using the “online ecosystem” to raise funds; Ukraine war’s potential rallying point for far-right extremism: ISD

SINGAPORE — Terrorist groups in Southeast Asia are increasingly leveraging an “online ecosystem” to raise funds and propaganda via social media, with at least 181 nonprofits linked to terrorism in Indonesia known to funnel money to these violent groups.

The Department of Homeland Security (DSI) also said on Wednesday (July 13) that in the West, the threat of far-right extremism has “overshadowed” Islamist terrorism, with the Russian-Ukrainian war potentially serving as a “rallying point”. for these groups, which have shown an interest in the conflict since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Highlighting these trends in this year’s Singapore Terrorism Threat Assessment Report, the ISD said there was no specific intelligence on an imminent terrorist attack at this time, but the terrorist threat against Singapore remains high and the country continues to be a target of terrorist propaganda.

ISD said the “virtual network of supporters” of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorist group, along with other Islamist terrorist groups, continue to spread propaganda, fundraise and plan attacks.

ISIS continues to pose a “significant threat to global security” despite leadership and territory losses, the report concludes.

“As pandemic restrictions ease and cross-border travel resumes, terrorist elements may become more active and revisit plots that had been put on hold.”

REGIONAL SITUATION

In Southeast Asia, ISIS affiliates are the primary driver of terrorism and pose the most immediate threat thanks to their ability to mount ISIS-inspired attacks.

The ISD said militant pro-Isis factions in the southern Philippines “persistently” engage security forces in insurgency-style armed clashes, while state-aligned Jemaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) networks Islamists in Indonesia also remained active in plotting attacks.

“Over the past year, the number and scale of terrorist attacks and plots linked to or inspired by the Islamic State in Southeast Asia have decreased, largely due to strong counterterrorism measures and restrictions travel related to Covid-19″, he added.

“As travel restrictions around the world are lifted, this lull is likely to be temporary.”

Since the mid-2010s, more than 1,000 Southeast Asians have traveled to conflict zones in Syria and Iraq. At least 600 Southeast Asians are believed to remain in Syria – a significant number are women and children in detention camps.

In May this year, the US government sanctioned a network of five Indonesian ISIS financial facilitators, who allegedly raised funds in Indonesia and Turkey. The funds were eventually used to smuggle children out of Syrian detention camps to join Isis.

“Despite the distance, these individuals pose a security challenge for our region. Seasoned fighters could facilitate and direct attacks from abroad,” ISD added.

ONLINE TERRORISM ECOSYSTEM

The regional online terror ecosystem also remains a persistent threat by helping to fund radicalization and recruitment for ISIS-affiliated causes, the report warned.

“Autonomous media groups and ISIS supporters engage in ‘cyber jihad’, circulating official ISIS materials alongside self-produced propaganda.

“This facilitates the radicalization and recruitment of a ‘virtual caliphate of believers’ who remain loyal to Isis, despite the group’s leadership losses and operational setbacks.”

ISIS’s announcement of a new leader – Abu Hassan al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi – in March this year “quickly drew pledges of allegiance from his followers in the Philippines and Indonesia”, ISD noted. .

This online ecosystem also facilitates communication between regional supporters and the core of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and also allows like-minded people in the region to coordinate terrorist activities across physical and international borders. to exchange operational skills such as the manufacture of weapons.

“As travel restrictions ease, online collaboration between extremists could manifest in attacks in the real world,” ISD said.

“Therefore, the region faces an increased risk of ISIS-inspired attacks carried out by local extremists, acting alone or in small groups.”

Regional terrorist groups or individuals have also increasingly exploited social media to raise funds, such as with the 181 terrorism-linked nonprofit organizations identified in Indonesia.

“Often operating under the guise of seemingly legitimate nonprofits, they solicit donations by exploiting public sympathy for the less fortunate, such as Muslim refugees abroad, and then channeling some of those funds to terrorist activities.”

EMERGENCE OF FAR-RIGHT EXTREMISM

The report adds that the emergence of far-right extremists has overshadowed Islamist terrorism in some Western countries, noting several attacks in the United States over the past three years believed to have been inspired by Brenton Tarrant, a white supremacist who has killed 51 worshipers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand in March 2019.

In December 2020, ISD detected the first case in Singapore involving an individual self-radicalized by such ideology. The 16-year-old Singaporean was also inspired by Tarrant and intended to carry out attacks at two mosques in Singapore.

Far-right elements have been known to embrace gaming culture, using online shooters as a recruiting channel, according to the report. “In this way, (far-right) narratives have crossed borders and developed traction among young people.”

Russia’s large-scale military invasion of Ukraine earlier this year has also “amplified interest” within online extremist communities, with many far-right elements likely volunteering to fight for Ukraine.

“Far-right aligned foreign fighters and the proliferation of surplus weapons are likely to be by-products of a protracted conflict in Ukraine,” the report notes.

NATIONAL THREAT SITUATION

ISD said the threat of self-radicalization continues to be the main driver of the domestic terrorist threat in Singapore.

Since 2015, 45 self-radicalized individuals – 33 Singaporeans and 12 foreigners – have received orders under the Internal Security Act (ISA).

The latest case concerns a 29-year-old Singaporean mover, Radjev Lal Madan Lal, who was detained under the ISA in April this year after being “deeply radicalized” by the online teachings of radical preachers.

“Radjev’s case underscores the pervasiveness of terrorist and extremist ideologies online, including those propagated by foreign preachers and ideologues,” ISD added.

“It is therefore important to maintain Singapore’s zero-tolerance approach to extremist rhetoric and hate speech, and to inoculate the wider community against radical ideologies.”

In the past 12 months, a Singaporean and a Bangladeshi man have also been convicted of terrorist financing offenses under the Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) Act, which combats terrorist financing activities.

Since the introduction of the law in 2002, 13 convictions have been made under the law.

The report notes that the global threat of terrorism and radicalization persists and that Singapore and Singaporeans are not immune.

Urging vigilance, the department said a government survey last year found two in three people agree they are alert and would watch for suspicious behavior or objects in public.

However, less than half of the 2,012 survey respondents said they would contact the authorities if they believed a family member, relative or friend was showing signs of radicalisation.

The ISD said: “Our strongest defense is our collective vigilance, preparedness, resilience and unity, as well as a zero-tolerance approach to those who seek to carry out or finance terrorist acts, or to propagate extremist rhetoric to foment divisions within our community.”

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