“Terrorism Is A Serious And Difficult Threat To Southeast Asia” Extracts Of An Interview Of Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong To The Australian

The killing of 129 people in Paris on Friday night has drawn support from all Southeast Asian nations with commemorative ceremonies to the victims hosted at French embassies across the region. Unfortunately no countries are these days immune from such barbaric acts.

A day prior to the killing in Paris, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong gave an interview to Sydney based newspaper ‘The Australian” about the threat of terrorism in Southeast Asia.

A threat which has to be also taken seriously following last August bombing in Bangkok and the arrest since February 2013 of 136 ISIS militants in Malaysia -including 15 belonging to the army as well as recruitment campaigns of ISIS in Indonesia are a real danger for the safety of the region according to the PM and shows that the radicalisation is not anymore the fact of “random invidiuals”.

Mr Lee also made reference to Indonesia. “On the Indonesian side it is also very serious because a few hundred is a small proportion, but it is a big enough number to cause you a lot of trouble,” he told the Australian.

“Also, there are parts of Indonesia which are remote from centres of government, like Poso, and if they set up a little base camp there and call that ISIS in Southeast Asia or some such title then that is another focal point which can attract activists.”

Mr Lee also drew attention to the problems of Indonesian prisons. “Even while in jail they can do spectacular things such as hold press conferences and certain ceremonies to pledge allegiance to ISIS complete with group photograph. Their terms of imprisonment are completed and then, they are released and it’s not at all clear that they are less dangerous than they used to be,” he added. Several hundred in Indonesian prisons are due to be released this year and next. Mr Lee said that while Indonesia is taking this very seriously, it could be a difficult problem for them.

Mr Lee also shared his thoughts on why such violent ideology persists, calling it a “very difficult” problem.

“It is not purely religion and yet it is not unrelated to a certain warped view of religion. Some people genuinely persuade themselves that this is the way to heaven and so they pursue this perverted path,” he said. “Others know very little about religion or doctrine. Something has gone with their life and this is their way to hit out at the world or at their society.

“Some of them are young people who are just misled. They are at the soul-searching stage of their lives and they stumble across this and then, get led deeper and deeper in and then, it is almost too late,” he added. “We have picked up students who are like that. They are in school and they did not have a network. It is not that they had radical friends but somehow they became interested in this.It was lucky that we discovered them”.

Singapore Strait Times reported on Sunday that a group of Islamist radical militants are looking to set base in Southern Philippines and bring together groups from Indonesia, The Philippines and Malaysia to form a branch of ISIS in Southeast Asia.

(Picture : South China Morning Post- March 2015)