ISIS Too Pivots to Asia
The Islamic State is about to relocate lock, stock and barrel, to the Far East – possibly even jumping the gun on Barack Obama’s preparations to mark his final months as US president with offensives for rooting the Islamists out of their bastions in Mosul and Raqqa.
After two US presidential contenders, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, sparred in their first debate on Sept. 27 on how to grapple with the Islamist terrorists plaguing Europe and America, DEBKA Weekly’s counterterrorism and intelligence sources reveal that ISIS strongholds in Middle East (though not Africa) had begun emptying out of jihadist fighters who were on the move to the Far East.
It is somewhat ironic to find Obama finally winding down the US presence in the Middle East and its nations’ military dependence on America, in pursuit of a landmark pivot of US political, economic and military resources to Asia – only to meet ISIS heading in the same direction.
According to our sources, in early September, ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi ordered his organization to embark on a major move to transfer its main bodies and command centers to India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. Each command center was assigned its new location.
Units drawing mainly on local inhabitants in central Iraq and southern Syria were directed either to stay in place or scatter, depending on circumstances in each place.
Baghdadi decided on the move after concluding that his organization had exhausted the usefulness of its presence in Iraq and Syria. Nothing more was to be gained by staying there in view of the political and military conditions prevailing at present and in the foreseeable future.
The Far East and the Indian subcontinent, in contrast, offered a fresh recruiting paradise: large Muslim populations and minorities tossed about by a strong groundswell of popular frustration and restiveness appeared to be ripe for radicalization.
Local terrorist groups in some places were eager to collaborate with ISIS. The Islamic State was encouraged by its Asian debut in Dhaka, capital of Bangladesh on July 2, when a terrorist attack claimed the lives of 20 hostages at the Holey Artisan Baker café, a favorite haunt of foreign workers.
On July 5, ISIS honored the event with a video dedicated to “The Knights of the Khalafa in Bengal.”
The Muslim populations in the newly-targeted countries are on a vast scale unknown in the Middle East: 150 million in Bangladesh, 170 in India, 204 million in Indonesia, 17 million in Malaysia, 10 million in the Philippines, 178 million in Pakistan and 29 million in Afghanistan – a total of three quarters of a billion Muslims in that part of the world.
Baghdadi’s strategy there closely follows his Middle East tactics – i.e., a grab for tracts of land where central government is remote and the army too thin on the ground to resist. There too he will single out areas rich in natural resources, such as oil, gold and other precious metals, which are easily looted for quick profit.
Most of the countries targeted by ISIS lack the machinery for fighting terrorism. Some maintain anti-terror security bodies in big cities, but none in sparsely populated areas.
And so the leaders of ISIS anticipate a shoo-in at their new destinations.
As to the unfamiliar geography – many islands and lots of ocean – ISIS will need to change some of its terrorist tactics and create a marine arm consisting of small marine raiding parties, for which ISIS will depend heavily on the aid of indigenous inhabitants.
In many ways, the ISIS move to new terrain recalls Osama Bin Laden’s response to the American 2003 invasion of Afghanistan: He relocated his Al Qaeda headquarters to the Arabian Peninsula via Pakistan. It was then that Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was formed.
The repositioning of ISIS in the Far East and the building of new terrorist command centers is a process that will take years. But the bad news is that the jihadists do not propose to take any time off from their mainstream terrorist activities in Libya, Egypt, Sinai, Iraq, Syria, West Europe and North America.