Terror Threat in Asian Countries Declined in 2021, Singapore Think-Tank Reports

BenarNews staff
Bangkok and Washington
Terror Threat in Asian Countries Declined in 2021, Singapore Think-Tank Reports Indonesian police escort a terror suspect at the Sultan Hasanuddin Airport in Makassar during his transfer to custody in Jakarta, Feb. 4, 2021.

Terrorist threats in Southeast and South Asian countries declined in 2021, a Singapore think-tank said in its annual threat assessment published this week, noting that COVID-19 movement restrictions had “flattened the curve of terrorism.”

There were fewer terror-related incidents in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Bangladesh as governments battled the pandemic, according to the Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis report published by researchers at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

In Thailand in 2021, meanwhile, violent incidents connected to an insurgency in the far south were similar to those in the previous year, the researchers found.

“Ultimately, the 2021 survey underscored the continuing imperative for states to address the longer-term underlying grievances that fuel violent extremism,” the analysis said.

In Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest country, the number of attacks and plots by violent extremist Islamic militant groups dipped during the past two years compared with before the outbreak of COVID-19, according to the report.

Jamaah Ansharut Daulah’s (JAD) relatively stagnant activities in 2020-2021 and the decline of Eastern Indonesia Mujahideen’s (MIT) terror activities in 2021, it said, “can be partly attributed to movement restrictions and higher costs associated with domestic travels due to the pandemic.”

In 2021, JAD was involved in at least nine incidents, including five using explosive materials. Those included two suicide bomb attacks and a suicide bomb plot, compared with 11 incidents the previous year.

Police were the most common targets of terrorist incidents in Indonesia, the analysis found. Others targeted by Indonesian extremists last year were “civilians, including Christians, as well as both Indonesian and mainland Chinese,” the report said.

On Tuesday, Indonesian security forces announced they had killed Ahmad Gazali, a suspected MIT member, in the mountains of Central Sulawesi province, cutting MIT’s membership down to only three.

Both MIT and JAD are pro-Islamic State (IS) extremist groups.

Malaysia, Philippines

The analysis specifically linked the COVID-19 pandemic to the drop in terror activities in Malaysia last year.

“The pandemic-driven movement restrictions that hampered inter-state and international movements also ‘flattened the curve of terrorism’ in Malaysia,” it said.

Authorities made no terror-related arrests in Peninsular Malaysia last year – but made about 15 in Sabah between May and September. There were seven arrests in 2020; 72 in 2019; 85 in 2018; 106 in 2017 and 119 in 2016, the analysis found.

Still, the analysis expressed concern that terror threats had moved online.

“The government-imposed lockdowns have forced people to spend more time online, raising the likelihood of vulnerable individuals being exposed to radical ideologies in the cyber domain. Around the region, groups such as IS have increased their recruitment and radicalization efforts through social media during the pandemic,” it said.

Elsewhere, the Armed Forces of the Philippines drew praise for retaking terror bases in the southern region of Mindanao.

Nationwide, “the number of successful terrorist incidents dropped from 134 in 2019, to 59 incidents in 2020 and 17 in 2021, the analysts said, defining a successful incident as an attack that injured or killed others.

The analysis noted that government-imposed COVID-19 lockdowns affected terror operations.

“Given they significantly limited the movements of the general population, as well as those of terrorists, this has rendered terrorist logistics vulnerable to being detected more readily,” it said.


In Bangladesh in 2021, “there were two failed attacks compared to four successful ones in 2020,” the report said, adding that authorities had arrested about 130 terrorist suspects nationwide.

Neo-JMB, a pro-Islamic State breakaway faction of Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh, “appeared to target law enforcement agencies, churches, noted Hindu and Buddhist personalities and workers of non-governmental organizations,” the analysis said.

It also said that Neo-JMB sought to “‘train all its members in the production of IEDs,’ as well as ‘chloroform bombs to target buses, classrooms and public places in its bid to kill silently.’”


In Thailand’s insurgency-hit southern border region, 423 violent incidents were recorded, leaving 104 dead and 169 injured through November 2021, according to the report. The scale was similar to 2020 when 335 violent incidents occurred, leaving 116 dead and 161 injured.

In the Muslim-majority Deep South, as the region is known, more than 7,000 people have been killed since separatist groups resumed an insurgency against the Buddhist-majority 18 years ago.

The Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), the Deep South’s largest separatist group, scaled down its militant operations on humanitarian grounds in April 2020 because of the pandemic. The analysis said this led to a “significant decline in violence.”

“In 2021, the BRN maintained low-level operations, so as not to aggravate the already perilous situation for southern residents,” it said.

After avoiding peace talks with government officials, in early 2020, BRN rejoined the efforts brokered by Malaysia. A source from the government team said the two sides met virtually in 2021 and the BRN submitted a ceasefire proposal in May, according to the analysis.

“BRN proposed the establishment of an autonomous ‘Patani Darussalam,’ in which the Patani people had the right to design their own education and economic systems. In addition, their Malay language and identity were to be officially recognized and preserved,” it said.


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