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Asian Extremists Gain Foothold In Online Media

April 20, 2009

According to a new study, radical militant groups in Southeast Asia are becoming increasingly savvy in their use of technology, using the Internet to recruit and train new supporters.

The report, a collaborative effort from Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies and the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, claims that as the Internet becomes an increasingly effective tool for recruitment and training it could play a significant role in allowing these radical groups to destabilize the entire region.

“To put it bluntly: security agencies may detect the bomb manuals, but miss the process of radicalization that produces the bombers,” said the report, which was made available to journalists this weekend.

The report points to online forums where members of the radical militant groups post instructional videos demonstrating how to make bombs or hack into secured computer systems.

“Terrorist groups in Southeast Asia are increasingly using the Internet as a means to radicalize people as well as to recruit and train supporters,” states the study.

“Using this international platform, they’re attempting to shape people’s ideas about whose ideology is right and who should win”¦ Importantly, they are not attacking only the West, but are drawing on their narrative to attack the governance arrangements of regional states.”

Extremist groups like Jemaah Islamiyah and Abu Sayyaf have plagued the governments of Southeast Asia in recent years.  Jamaah Islamiyah made itself famous when it claimed responsibility for the devastating Bali bombings in 2002 that claimed the lives of more than 200 civilians, 164 of whom were foreign nationals.

Abu Sayyaf has made its way into the media in the last several years through the kidnapping of foreign workers; one of whom, a Red Cross employee, is still in captivity.

Between 2007 and 2008, the authors of the study detected a disturbing jump in the number of radical websites sponsored by extremist groups, rising from 15 to 117 in less than a year’s time.

The report stated that regional authorities “have done little to stop the rise of online radicalization” compared with their counterparts in Europe, North America and the Middle East.

As far as the researchers could tell, radical groups first made their entry into the internet in Southeast Asia in 2000, making postings in various dialects of the Malay language.  Their initial efforts seemed to copy the style and content of more sophisticated Middle Eastern terrorists groups, but they have become increasingly independent and stylized in the last couple years, said the report.

The study also cautioned that the websites are increasingly targeting the youth with their radical messages and have begun infiltrating social networking sites in addition to hosting their more traditional websites.

“Many of the Bahasa Indonesia and Malay language websites have been used as online platforms to justify terrorist acts and propagate conspiracy theories,” said the report.

Some of the militant groups have even created their own online media units that function like a sort of radicalized international news organization, providing remarkably current updates on world news stories while adding their own radical spin.  They frequently have live interviews and offer exclusive photos and video footage.

“By emulating established media news outlets, they hope to narrow the credibility gap between themselves and the established news media so that more people will tune in to their radical Islamist version of world affairs,” the report said.

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