Southeast Asia – The Islamic State’s New Front? – DOCSUM

By Joshua Kurlantzick

Summarized For IO Readers by David McDonald- Link: 

Executive Summary: 

Given the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) losses in the Middle East, it is now focusing its sights on other parts of the globe.  Though it is focusing attacks elsewhere, ISIS’ recruitment efforts are focused on other regions of heavy Muslim influence – South and Southeast Asia.  The group’s recruitment in the region is likely due to many factors, including:

  • The region’s large Muslim population.  ISIS leaders continue to recruit in the region because of its heavy Muslim population.  Its high number of people makes it more likely for the group to train and indoctrinate radical members within the Muslim community.


  • Countries with porous borders and high unemployment.  Countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines not only have porous borders, but also weak customs.  The high number of uneducated men within Southeast Asian countries also makes it a priority for ISIS recruits.  Countries like India have shown growth, but still have high enough unemployment to remain susceptible.


  • Conservative Salafist groups with influence over schools and charities.  In Indonesia, Malaysia, and Bangladesh, Salafist groups continue to build schools.  Public schools in the countries are often short on funds and, therefore, expensive to attend.  Given this issue, foreign Islamic schools have greater popularity because of affordability, but play a role in radicalizing youth.  Despite this issue, the tolerance of other cultural groups mixed with western aid limit its damage.


  • South and Southeast Asia contain numerous insurgency and militant groups, providing great recruits for ISIS.  Insurgency groups in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand conduct kidnappings, beheadings, and attacks on civilian populations.  Many of these groups provide ISIS with a pre-radicalized recruiting class.  Myanmar’s civilian Muslim population, which faces persecution from radical Buddhists, may also provide recruits.   




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