Moles in shipping industry?

Security intelligence has warned of an intricate network that links terror groups to players in the economic sector.

This “brotherhood”, security experts say, serves to provide easy passage to terror groups, in particular global terror groups, such as the Islamic State (IS), seeking to strengthen their foothold in this region.

IS, which has since last year established a partnership with the southern Philippines-based Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), has set its eyes on the volatile area as its base for the Southeast Asian region to spread its ideology and influence for the establishment of a caliphate.

Counter-terrorism specialist Andrin Raj said the spate of kidnaps-for-ransom carried out by the ASG, which saw several vessels ambushed and many crewmen kidnapped in recent days, also suggested that ASG’s allegiance with the IS has brought with it support from those backing the group led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

They are also holding in their stronghold in Jolo Island, a Canadian, Norwegian and Filipino whom they had abducted in September.

Intelligence suggests that there are more than 20 foreigners in ASG’s “custody” to date.

The ASG has this time upped its ransom rate by at least two-fold.

In the case of the Canadian and Norwegian, the ASG had made it clear that they would be beheaded if their governments failed to pay their ransom of 300 million pesos (RM25 million, reduced from the earlier one billion pesos/RM84 million).

Heavily armed and equipped with maritime assets, the ASG terrorists would snatch their targets from Sabah-Philippine waters.

Of late, their targets had been slow-moving vessels, particularly tugboats towing barges.

In sounding the warning, security experts have asked regional authorities to look closely into the backroom operations of their country’s shipping industry.

“There is a serious threat of an ‘insider’ colluding with the operatives of ASG. They also know that the areas in the disputed waters are not being patrolled, so it’s easier for them to mount attacks as no maritime authorities can manoeuvre within these disputed waters.

“But the trail leads back to their sources in the shipping industry and the authorities need to investigate the source of the leaked information,” Raj, Southeast Asia regional director for the International Association of Counter Terrorism and Security Professionals, told the New Straits Times.

Global security agencies are also drawing links to the latest IS propaganda mouthpiece which has lumped Malaysia along with several other countries, including Egypt and Turkey, as an apostate state, to governments that must be fought.

IS, they said, would drum up this ideology and infiltrate governments as part of their aggressive campaign to establish their foothold in this region.

They believed Malaysia was vulnerable and would make it easier to infiltrate the country.

They said the IS would use ASG and Suluk recruits for their attacks.

“In the case of ASG and IS, there is a clear link between the two as the nexus of terrorism and transnational criminal groups are evident. They complement each other in times of need.

“The ASG, on its part, will become more prudent in its operations as it now has the IS as its main supporter and sponsor,” said an expert.

The experts, in commending Malaysian authorities for bolstering the country’s security, said efforts to safeguard national security should also be shouldered by the public.

“It is crucial for the public to play their role where they can, including the commercial sectors. It is the joint-community support policing that Malaysians must uphold.”

Raj said Malaysia had become an IS target since last year when its authorities started clamping down on IS recruits and returnees.

“The threat is real and IS will try to hit high-value commercial and industrial targets as they have done ground operational surveillance in the region and are aware of the first responders’ protocols in Malaysia.

“This region, where IS has established its base, is a safe haven as they believe there won’t be any major offensives from the armed forces as compared with Iraq and Syria and some places within the Maghreb where military operations to dislodge them are taking place every day, with coordinated and sustained ground and airstrikes.

“IS believes this will not happen in this region,” he said.

Source: NST

Arab News Express