Jihadists in Syria and their implication for Southeast Asia

Jihadists in Syria and their implication for Southeast Asia
Free Syrian Army fighters stand at a former base used by fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), after the ISIL withdrew from the town of Azaz, near the Syrian-Turkish border

London-based International Center for the Study of Radicalization (ICSR) estimates that about 11,000 people from 74 countries are joining the Syrian opposition fighters. Among them are Indonesian jihadists, who have been involved in the conflict since it started on Jan. 26, 2011.

The Indonesian jihadists consider Syria al-Sham, the holy place for jihad, home to a battle between good and evil. The call for the fight against the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria is stronger than that during the Afghan war, where many Indonesian jihadists fought the Soviet Union in 1980s-1990s. As we know, the Afghan veterans planned and perpetrated the Bali bombings in 2002 and 2005.

The call for war in Syria has been openly sounded in Indonesia within certain religious circles as well as at a number of book events recently. The groups have also recruited volunteers from universities, including hardline Muslim students from rich families.

Other Indonesian jihadists who fight in Syria are students in Middle Eastern, South Asian and Southeast Asian universities.

The National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) has recorded more than 50 Indonesian fighters in Syria are connected with al-Qaeda terrorist groups.

Their agenda in Syria varies. First, they want to help oust the Assad regime, which is associated with Shia. In their eyes, the war is between Sunni and Shia.

Second, the war will allow them to meet other jihadists from all over the world and, hence, set up a global jihad network.

Third, the war is believed to raise the dignity of Islam in their quest for the creation of an Islamic state in Syria. The involvement of jihadists has complicated the challenge facing the opposition force in Syria, but for the jihadists' home countries the impact will be more worrying. It is feared that these Syrian war veterans will spread radicalism, religious violence and terrorism in their respective home countries.

Their war experiences, their radical ideology and global jihad connections will transform the face of Islam in their home countries.

Although the majority of Indonesian-Muslims are moderate Sunni and associated with the country's two largest Muslim organisations, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah, the increasing number of radical groups has sparked concern.

They have grown very significantly since the collapse of the New Order regime, thanks to the role of Islamic radical schools established in the 1980s and 1990s.

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