Updated at 5:31 p.m. ET on 2018-09-19
The top U.S. ambassador on counterterrorism on Wednesday named India and the Philippines as two of five countries where the greatest concentration of terror attacks occurred last year.
American Ambassador at Large Nathan A. Sales made the announcement in Washington while releasing the State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism 2017.
“Although terrorist attacks took place in 100 countries in 2017, they were concentrated geographically. Fifty-nine percent of all attacks took place in five countries. Those are Afghanistan, India, Iraq, Pakistan, and the Philippines,” Sales told reporters during a conference call from Washington.
Among its highlights, the report said that “Southeast Asia remained a target for terrorist recruitment” despite regional cooperation, which had resulted in “high numbers of terrorism-related arrests and, in many cases, successful prosecutions.”
The report lays out the U.S. government’s assessment of recent counterterrorism trends and highlights efforts taken to combat groups including the Islamic State (IS), al-Qaeda, Iran-backed threats and other terrorist groups of global reach.
In Southeast Asia, “the threat posed by transnational terrorism was particularly prominent when ISIS-affiliated domestic groups in the southern Philippines occupied parts of Marawi City for five months before finally succumbing to Philippine counterterrorism forces,” the report said, using another acronym for IS.
Southeast Asian governments “remained concerned about foreign terrorist fighters returning from Iraq or Syria and using their operational skills, connections, and experience to launch domestic attacks,” the report added.
Last week, Sales travelled to Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia where he held talks with respective counterterrorism officials about strengthening regional cooperation in that area, such as through sharing security information. Before flying home from Jakarta on Sept. 14, the American envoy and the chief of Indonesia’s counterterror agency signed a memorandum to boost bilateral information-sharing in preventing terrorism.
Despite many successes “the terrorist landscape grew more complex in 2017. ISIS, al-Qaeda, and their affiliates have proven to be resilient, determined, and adaptable,” Sales told reporters. “They have adjusted to heightened counterterrorism pressure in Iraq, Syria, Somalia, and elsewhere.”
“Foreign terrorist fighters are heading home from the war zone in Iraq and Syria or traveling to third countries to join ISIS branches there. We also are experiencing an increase in attacks by homegrown terrorists – that is, people who have been inspired by ISIS but have never set foot in Syria or Iraq,” he added
According to the State Department report, India was most impacted by militancy in Kashmir, which has seen about 70,000 deaths since an insurgency outbreak in the late 1980s, and parts of central India where Maoist militants are active.
The report specifically identified a March 2017 attack on a passenger train by self-radicalized terrorists inspired by IS in Madhya Pradesh state; a second attack 10 days later where Maoists ambushed and killed 25 security personnel in Chhattisgarh; a July attack where alleged Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) members killed seven Hindu pilgrims in Kashmir; and an August attack when alleged Jaish-e-Muhammad fighters killed eight security personnel in Kashmir.
Meanwhile in the Philippines, the military and government security forces were locked in the five-month battle against militants to break an IS-linked siege of the southern town of Marawi that began in May 2017, the report noted.
It also cited efforts by security forces in June to rescue 60 civilians who had been taken hostage by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in North Cotabato; an August attack by suspected Abu Sayyaf Group members on a village in Basilan, where at least nine civilians were killed; and a December attack on a police station in Misamis Oriental by about 100 members of the communist New People’s Army (NPA).
Along with highlighting militant attacks in the region, the report listed efforts by South and Southeast Asian countries to counter violent extremism (CVE).
India was cited for CVE programs targeting disaffected sectors of society at the highest risk of terrorist recruitment. In addition, government officials raised concerns about Islamic State’s ability to recruit members through social media, the report said.
Neighboring Bangladesh was cited for cooperating with the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund, a public-private fund to support grassroots efforts in at-risk communities. Its ministry of religious affairs and the National Committee on Militancy, Resistance and Prevention were cited for their work with imams and religious scholars to increase public awareness against terrorism in the Muslim-majority country.
In Southeast Asia, the Anti-Terrorism council in the Philippines was working by the end of 2017 on finalizing a national action plan against CVE and establishing a whole government strategy, according to the report.
In its country report on Indonesia, the State Department focused on how Indonesian leaders were promoting the tolerant practice of Islam and reinforcing the national ideology of Pancasila. The National Counterterrorism Agency moved to develop a CVE action plan and community-focused police efforts were able to identify early warning signs of radicalization, the report said.
In Malaysia, the Ministry of Youth’s Institute for Youth Research published guidelines to educate on “the dangers of radicalism and involvement in extremism based on government-sponsored research on IS ideology.”
While Thailand lacked a national CVE action plan, its draft national counterterrorism strategy included some related elements, the report stated. The Internal Security Operations Command was credited with organizing outreach programs aimed at ethnic Malay-Muslims in the Deep South to counter radicalization, according to the State Department.