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Asiaweek: An Islamic Fraternity? [KMM]
By Sangwon Suh
14/9/2001 8:41 pm Fri
An Islamic Fraternity?
Separatists in Aceh, militants in Mindanao, extremists in Kashmir . . . Are
Muslim fundamentalists in Asia cooperating with one another to wage a
region-wide jihad? Not necessarily. The various radical groups are united
by little more than sympathy
By SANGWON SUH
Asia is certainly home to a fair number of Muslim fundamentalist groups,
and many of them are armed and dangerous. But are they part of a
regional, or even global, network that is seeking to spread terror in Asia
and elsewhere? The short answer is no. Many of Asia's militants trained or
fought in Afghanistan, and they express sympathy for one another's
causes. But that aside, they are concerned more about their domestic aims
- usually of the secessionist variety - than about waging a global jihad.
In Indonesia, a noted extremist organization is the Jakarta-based Laskar
Jihad. Its machete-wielding "soldiers" have attained notoriety for their
holy war against Christians in places like the Malukus. Laskar Jihad,
however, insists it has no links to Afghanistan. "We have nothing to do
with Osama bin Laden," says Ayip Syafruddin, chairman of the
Communication Forum, a group associated with Laskar Jihad. "We have no
contact with them. We have a different vision." Elsewhere in the country,
the Free Aceh Movement, or GAM, has been fighting a decades-long war
for independence in the resource-rich province, but it insists it has no
links with outside groups.
In the Philippines, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front has been struggling
for independence on the island of Mindanao. The MILF, which rejected the
1996 peace deal that the rival Moro National Liberation Front signed with
Manila, is currently in talks with the government. Eduardo Ermita, a
presidential adviser on peace talks with the MILF, believes bin Laden's
people have no contacts in the Philippines apart from the smaller, more
hard-line Abu Sayyaf, which is viewed as little more than a deadly band of
extortionists. There is no indication, he says, that "they have any direct
influence or contact with . . . the MILF."
Pakistan is a base for a number of Kashmiri groups fighting to secede
from India, and many of their fighters were trained in Afghanistan. But
again, there is no evidence that they are operating outside their home turf.
Shortly after the World Trade Center assault, one organization, the
Lashkar-e-Taiba, reportedly claimed responsibility for the operation. But a
spokesman later denied the report.
The East Turkestani Union, which seeks independence for ethnic Uighurs
in China's Xinjiang province, has been responsible for a number of
incidents, including a bomb attack at Tiananmen Square in Beijing two
years ago. The group is believed to have links to Islamic radicals in Turkey,
but no ties to Afghanistan have been established.
Standing apart from these violent militants is Parti Islam SeMalaysia (Pas),
Malaysia's main opposition group. The government claims otherwise: The
son of party leader Nik Aziz Nik Mat was recently detained with others for
allegedly being part of an extremist group with links to Afghanistan. Pas
says the arrests are aimed at discrediting the party. Pas's case mirrors the
situation of many similar-minded organizations around the region: They
are generally too busy with their own struggles at home to be bothered
about others abroad. They do, however, provide governments, justifiably
or otherwise, with convenient bogeymen.
With reporting by WARREN CARAGATA/JAKARTA, RAISSA
ESPINOSA- ROBLES/MANILA and ALLEN T. CHENG/BEIJING