Terrorist groups other than Daesh to worry about

As the permanent five of the United Nations Security Council grapple with each other and how to deal with Daesh in the Middle East, it is useful to look at some of the terrorism activity that has occurred closer to home. Because of the horrific crimes that they have committed, the militant groups in the Middle East distract the attention from other areas, perhaps undeservedly, since the numerous injustices perpetrated around the by other militant groups have caused their share of instability as well. And with reports coming out of Indonesia that there has been bomb blasts and gunfire in Jakarta today, clearly those threats are current.

Some years ago, TIME Magazine ran an article on the spread of Islamic militant groups throughout Southeast Asia, and the ambitions that they had. It identified several groups of varying potency, including al-Qaida offshoots but also locally brewed groups disgruntled with the way Islam was being treated as a religion. The report mentioned that all of the groups wanted to form some sort of Islamic super state which would take up parts of the Philippines, much of Indonesia, as well as parts of Malaysia, all of Singapore and Brunei. Some of the major groups it identified included:

  • Abu Sayyaf – a Philippine based militant group
  • Moro Islamic Liberation Front
  • Moro National Liberation Front

However there is one other group often forgotten, which is an al-Qaida offshoot, that has had a major role in terrorism activities around Southeast Asia, particularly in Indonesia, but also across the region. That group is Jemaah Islamiah. Its primary success to date is the deadly 12 October 2002 Sari Nightclub attack in Kuta, Bali. In this particular incident a truck bomb and suicide bomber hit a crowded night club in its busiest work hours killing over 250 people.

Because New Zealand has significant business and tourism interests in Indonesia, whose proximity to Australia makes it somewhat easier for their nationals to enter the two western countries, what happens there and in places such as the Philippines should be of more immediate concern to New Zealand. Large numbers of New Zealanders holiday in Bali and some have business interests in the tourism sector there. In Jakarta, numerous corporate business interests such as Fonterra have offices there. All of these raise the profile of westernized influence in the eyes of Islamic militants. So too does the conduct of nationals from western countries abiding by local customs, such as dressing modestly and taking footwear off when entering temples.

No New Zealanders have yet died fighting Daesh. However, over the years there have been several victims of Jemaah Islamiah. New Zealand interests in Indonesia are growing because of increasing demand for our products, and also because a lot of Indonesian students come to New Zealand for its education. Despite getting our oil from the Middle East and Emirates providing daily flights to/from Auckland and Christchurch, the influence New Zealand is likely to have there is considerably less than in Southeast Asia.

I think New Zealand should stay out of conflicts where we cannot influence the course of events. The conflict in the Middle East is a prime example. However, we can work with Australia, Indonesia and our Southeast Asian neighbours as well as those in the South Pacific to maintain the rule of law, uphold human rights and discourage events such as those that happened in Jakarta earlier today.

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