Just as exports recover in Southeast Asia and GDP growth hums along, terrorism is rearing its ugly head to bring new uncertainty to business and investment.
Meeting in Singapore over the weekend, Southeast Asian defense officials at security conference repeatedly urged cooperation to counter what they said was the growing threat of Islamic extremism in the region, reports Bloomberg.
They expressed fears that Islamic State militants being driven out of the Middle East are moving to Indonesia, Malaysia and other predominantly Muslim areas.
In May, two suicide bombings in Jakarta killed three police officers. In predominantly Muslim southern Philippines, Filipino and foreign Muslim militants are holed up in Marawi City as they fight off Philippine troops. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has imposed martial law in Mindanao island.
Last week, more than 30 people were killed at a casino in Manila, close to the international airport, in an incident that the Islamic State, also known as Daesh, claimed was an attack by its sympathizers. But Philippine authorities said the gunman was a deeply indebted Filipino gambler who fired in the air and set the casino on fire with gasoline, causing the deaths from smoke inhalation.
“The most immediate challenge in my mind is meeting head-on the threat of Daesh,” Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told the conference attendees. “Real military gains have been made against Daesh [in the Middle East] in the last couple of months. This, however, gives rise to the disturbing prospect that the Asia-Pacific is now in Daesh’s crosshairs.”
Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines are expected to start joint anti-piracy patrols in the Sulu Sea on June 19. Terrorist groups are believed to use the body of water as access point to the three nations.