Southeast Asia and, Malaysia in particular, is at serious risk of an attack by the so-called Islamic State terrorist group, a leading political consultant warned on Tuesday.
"It is far from clear where, outside its 'heartland', Islamic State (IS) will strike next. But strike it will. And one region which appears to be at serious risk is Southeast Asia," Alastair Newton, head of Alavan Business Advisory and former political analyst at Nomura, said in a report on Tuesday.
In January, ISIS — also known by the acronyms IS or ISIL — launched its first successful attack in Southeast Asia, killing four civilians in a strike on Jakarta in Indonesia. This followed coordinated attacks in Paris in November, highlighting the increasing global clout of the Islamist extremist group.
"We have already seen one — admittedly badly executed — attack in Jakarta; and security warnings from the Australian and British government about the terrorist threat in Malaysia should be taken seriously," Newton said.
Like neighboring Indonesia, Malaysia is a predominantly Muslim nation from which an increasing number of people have left to join ISIS in Syria in recent months or expressed pro-ISIS views on social media.
Last month, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office upgraded its stance on the terrorism threat in Malaysia to high and advised against non-essential travel to all islands off the eastern coast of Sabah in Borneo. In addition, the Australian government warned that terrorists could be planning an attack on the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur.
Matthew Henman, the head of IHS Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Centre, told CNBC on Tuesday that both Malaysia and the nearby Philippines were in focus for signs of ISIS activity.
"Southeast Asia — particularly the Philippines and Malaysia — and areas of West Africa bordering Nigeria are countries we are watching closely for indications of Islamic State operational activity. Beyond that, an official Islamic State attack in Western Europe, particularly Belgium, Germany, U.K., Netherlands, and Italy (following on from Paris), is very much on our radar currently," he said.
It is unclear though whether the Southeast Asia region is a major point of interest for ISIS, whose core base is in Syria and Iraq.
"There is no evidence that Southeast Asia features prominently in the strategic calculus of the ISIS leadership in Raqqa," Joseph Chinyong Liow, a senior fellow at the Brookings Center for East Asia Policy Studies, said in article in February.
What's not in doubt is that ISIS's attack strategy is globalizing.
"Intelligence suggests that IS has developed an external action command trained for special forces-style attacks in the international environment," Europol, the European Union (EU)'s law enforcement agency, warned in January.
Branches of the terror group are proliferating in countries including Bangladesh and Indonesia in Asia and Tunisia, Mali and Somalia in Africa, the director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency warned last month.
"ISIL will probably conduct additional attacks in Europe and attempt to direct attacks on the U.S. Homeland in 2016… The large number of Western jihadists in Iraq and Syria will pose a challenge for Western security services," Lieutenant General Vincent Stewart said at a Senate Hearing.
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