ISIS use Southeast Asian militants as 'cannon fodder'

IN the cold of a Syrian winter less than a month ago, Malaysian Mohd Amirul Ahmad Rahim, 26, strapped bombs onto his body, got into a car and blew himself up during clashes in the Islamic State's (IS) capital Raqqa in Syria.

The blast on Dec 29 last year killed 21 Kurdish fighters during an IS offensive against the 44th Syrian Democratic Forces, according to Malaysian police.

Before he died, Amirul wrote a will decreeing his wife and two-year-old son remain in the war zone - which faces regular air strikes from Russia, a US-led coalition and President Bashar al-Assad's war planes - to continue his "jihad".

The toddler, helpless in the arms of his mother far away from the warm and peace of Malaysia, has no say on his life - his fate has already been decided by his father who will not be around to care for him or watch him grow up.

"Amirul wrote a will saying he wants my daughter and his son to remain in Syria," Amirul's father-in-law, a trader from Johor, told The Star in a phone interview.

"I have been trying to persuade my daughter to come home. My grandson is less than two years old. And my daughter is currently pregnant," said the trader who declined to be named.

He said his grandson would be expected to attend a "training school" there when he is old enough.

"I hope my daughter will come home. But if she doesn't, what can I do?" he asked. "I have to accept it. It is their ideology and belief."

According to a senior Malaysian counter-terrorism source, there are currently eight Malaysian children in Syria. Two of them, aged nine and 11, are undergoing training to become fighters where they are taught martial arts and how to shoot guns.

Amirul is one of six Malaysian suicide bombers who have died in Syria and Iraq. Another 11 Malay­sians died in battles fighting for IS.

According to Malaysian police, IS members register themselves to become suicide bombers.

Amirul's father-in-law recalled his 25-year-old daughter's words: "People queue up to register as a suicide bomber many Malaysians have registered to become suicide bombers."

Amirul's father-in-law described the deceased as a polite and well-behaved man.

"There was no sign they were going to leave Malaysia. One day, my repeated calls to them went unanswered. My daughter later Whatsapped me to say they had gone to Syria," said the trader.

A total of 100 Malaysians are in Syria. To date, Malaysian police have arrested 153 people for suspected links to IS since 2014. Out of that number, 21 are foreigners.

Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country, has more than 1,000 people in Syria, according to a senior Indonesian counter-terrorism source.

There is no official data for suicide bombers but some counter-terrorism analysts put the number at nine.

Several Indonesian militants are appointed as commanders on the frontline, according to the Indone­sian source. He gave no figures for the numbers killed.

"My heart is broken seeing Malaysians and Indonesians killed in Syria and Iraq," says counter-terrorism expert Noor Huda Ismail, founder of Indonesia's first private de-radicalisation organisation, International Institute for Peace Building.

"South-East Asian fighters are used as cannon fodder by IS to fight for them. They are treated as se­cond class citizens by IS' Arab leaders who look down on non-Arabs. They are placed at the frontline during battles where many of them are killed," says Huda.

"Some of the South-East Asian fighters who died as suicide bom­bers are not even mentioned in IS' social media. One example is a young Indone­sian named Wildan Mukhollad Las­min," says Huda.

Wildan was only 19 when he died as a suicide bomber in Iraq in 2014. He is the subject of Huda's upco­ming documentary, Jihad Selfie, that explores the use of social media to lure young men to join IS.

Huda also runs a cafe to create jobs for former militants to help them assimilate back into society.