Asia-Pacific News

Family terrorism is Southeast Asia's newest threat, defense officials warn

Key Points
  • Indonesian and Philippine defense officials over the weekend warned of the dangers of terrorism carried out by families.
  • This is a "new development in Southeast Asia, something local terrorists have never done before," said Delfin Lorenzana, secretary of national defence for the Philippines.
  • The ministers were speaking at the speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.
This picture taken on May 13, 2018 shows a man looking at burnt-out motorcycles following a bomb blast outside the Surabaya Centre Pentecostal Church (Surabaya Gereja Pantekosta Pusat) in Surabaya, East Java province.

Families carrying out terror acts are a worrying new trend in Southeast Asia, regional defense ministers warned this weekend.

Referring to multiple bombings in the Indonesian city of Surabaya last month that involved three families, including kids, the government officials expressed a strong urgency to prevent parents from radicalizing children.

"The advent of family terrorism," in which parents and children display a "disturbing" willingness for suicide bombings is "a new development in Southeast Asia, something local terrorists have never done before," Delfin Lorenzana, secretary of national defence for the Philippines, said on Sunday.

It is "absurd" for parents to urge their children to commit suicide, Indonesian Minister of Defense Ryamizard Ryacudu echoed on Saturday.

Both ministers were speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, an annual gathering of top defense officials from across the globe.

At least 13 people were killed and 40 injured after a family of six, including a nine-year old and twelve-year old, launched suicide attacks on three churches in Surabaya on May 13. That same day, a mother and her 17-year-old daughter were killed in a nearby suburb after a bomb handled by the family's father detonated prematurely. And the following day, a family of five detonated a bomb at the entrance of Surabaya' police headquarters.

The acts sent shockwaves through Southeast Asia's largest economy, which has long struggled with homegrown extremism but remains unaccustomed to the concept of child perpetrators.

Ryacudu attributed the phenomenon to what he called "third-generation terrorism," in which so-called Islamic State (ISIS) ideology spreads from Middle East to Europe and Asia via social media, informal networks and foreign fighters. "A structured and systematized strategy" is needed to combat this occurrence, he warned, adding that his country is currently deploying various methods of deradicalization, surveillance and early detection.

Lorenzana, meanwhile, highlighted new patterns of recruitment from ISIS-inspired organizations: "The new recruits are educated, young, and from middle class backgrounds" who are benefiting from digital networks, he said.

Technologies such as cryptocurrencies and the dark web offer terrorists a high degree of anonymity with minimal regulatory oversight, he warned. Taking his country as an example, he said local terror groups Abu Sayyaf and Maute used electronic transfers to funnel around $1.5 million for their 2017 siege of Malawi city.

Many are now worried that Myanmar, which is experiencing an ongoing refugee crisis, could be Southeast Asia's next terror hotbed. "We have to pay special attention to the Rohingya issue in Myanmar because if it is not properly managed, refugees can be recruited by ISIS groups," said Ryacudu.