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Islamic State ‘brand’ gains ground among Asian militants

A threat by Philippine militants to kill a German hostage in a show of solidarity with Islamic State is the latest sign that the Middle East group`s brand of radicalism is winning recruits in Asia and posing a growing security risk in the region, in Manila.

More than 100 people from Southeast Asia`s Muslim majority countries of Indonesia and Malaysia and the southern Philippine region are believed to have gone to join Islamic State`s fight in Iraq and Syria by security officials and analysts.

According to reports, Malaysian and Indonesian militants have discussed forming a 100-strong Malay-speaking unit within Islamic State in Syria.

Though Admiral Samuel Locklear, who heads the U.S. Armed Forces’ Pacific Command, said on Thursday about 1,000 recruits from India to the Pacific may have joined Islamic State to fight in Syria or Iraq, he did not specify the countries or give a time-frame. "That number could get larger as we go forward," he added.

In addition to India, the Hawaii-based Pacific Command’s area of responsibility covers 36 countries, including Australia, China and other Pacific Ocean states. The command does not cover Pakistan.

Thousands have sworn oaths of loyalty to Islamic State in the region, as local militant groups capitalise on a brand that has been fuelled by violent online videos and calls to jihad through social media, security analysts say. Also, they said this has disturbing implications for the region, especially when battle-hardened fighters return home from the Middle East.

According to messages distributed on Twitter, the Philippines’ Abu Sayyaf group, which has earlier claimed links with al Qaeda and is led by a one-armed septuagenarian, has threatened to kill one of the two Germans it holds hostage by October 10.

A spokeswoman for the German foreign ministry said in Berlin that "threats are no appropriate way of influencing German foreign policy," and that the ministry’s crisis group was working on the case.

Abu Sayyaf has suffered from dwindling support and military setbacks over the past decade, and is now believed to have only about 300 followers based on remote islands off the southern Philippines.

The move by Abu Sayyaf is considered as to revive its fortunes and gain publicity. Also, the security officials doubt it has any links with Islamic State beyond pledging allegiance to the Middle Eastern group. A senior leader of the group and several other members made an oath of loyalty to Islamic State in a video uploaded on YouTube in July, Philippines police and monitoring services have said.

A military spokesman, Ramon Zagala, said, "We believe that there is no direct link, that they are possibly sympathisers joining in the bandwagon to gain popular support. We see this as a way to be known, because right now the Abu Sayyaf is in a decline. To directly say that ISIS (Islamic State) is here – there are no indications of that."

[category-World] [tags-Philippine militants, Abu Sayyaf, Islamic State, Asia, Muslim majority, Admiral Samuel Locklear]

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