Unfortunately, the rise of the Islamic State (IS) has continued at a steady rate over the last year as the fighting in Syria and Iraq provide platforms for those who want to take up arms for a cause that is perhaps unrealistic back home.
The rise of foreign fighters flooding to these widespread battlefields is estimated at more than 30,000. Out of that staggering number, more than 1,000 have come from Southeast Asia. Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines are the primary source for IS fighters in the region. However, a recently released video shows a continuing trend from IS to recruit from a very large population many in the West know nothing about – Uyghurs.
The Uyghurs are a Turkic ethnic group primarily living in central and eastern Asia. The vast majority live in China’s westernmost province, home to an estimated 10 million Uyghurs. IS is specifically targeting this population more and more for recruitment.
On February 27th a 30-minute video was released showing ethnic Uyghurs training in Iraq and promising that blood will “flow in rivers” in China. Additionally, an Israeli intelligence report claims thousands of ethnic Uyghurs are fighting in Syria, with more attempting to join the fight every day.
Some Uyghurs in China are trying to stem the flow of “two-faced people” joining IS and fighting abroad. Yet, the real question remains: What will happen when these fighters try and return home and attempt to put into practice what they learned abroad?
Malaysia is also a nation which rarely makes IS-related headlines, however, just in the last few months authorities in Kuala Lumpur, Perak, Kedah and elsewhere have made a series of high profile arrests of men and women with suspected links to IS. Malaysia’s eastern most state, Sabah, has many islands neighboring Philippines’ troubled southern islands, home to a growing insurgency and breeding ground for IS and its offshoots. In January of this year it was uncovered that a terror cell was using Sabah as a transit point to bring militant recruits from around the region to funnel them into Southern Philippines. These recruits hailed from Malaysia, Bangladesh, Indonesia and even Rohingyas from Rakhine state in Burma – demonstrating the true regional nature of this growing crisis.
A stronger, coordinated effort must be made involving these countries and regional bodies. Non-government organizations like IRI are vital to this endeavor. Currently, IRI is at the forefront of working to stem the tide of violent extremism, developing innovative methodologies to understand the very localized drivers of violent extremism, inform the necessary stakeholders and then equip them with the capacity to work more closely and collaboratively in their communities. These efforts ensure that all citizens are able to not only freely voice their concerns and needs, but that those voices are heard and are being responded to. IRI’s work around the world is an important part of the response to violent extremism and we continue to provide actionable, citizen-oriented measures to ensure effective and peaceful social and political participation by all.