ISIS Goes to Asia – By Joseph Chinyong Liow SEPTEMBER 21, 2014

Extremism in the Middle East Isn’t Only Spreading West

A man prays in a mosque outside Kuala Lumpur. (Courtesy Reuters)

As the United States sought in recent weeks to assemble an international coalition to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS, also known as the Islamic State), it looked mostly to the Middle East and Europe, regions that it said face a direct threat from the militant Islamist group. But other parts of the world are just as anxious about ISIS — above all, Southeast Asia. The governments of that region have not publicized their concerns very loudly, but they are acutely aware that ISIS is a menace. Their top concern is that its extremist ideology will prove attractive to the region’s many Muslims, lure some of them to the Middle East to fight as part of the group, and ultimately be imported back to the region when these militants return home.There is a clear precedent for this scenario. During the 1980s, many young Muslims from Southeast Asia went to Pakistan to support the Afghan mujahideen’s so-called jihad against Soviet occupation. Many of these recruits subsequently stayed in the region, mingling with like-minded Muslims from all around and gaining exposure to al Qaeda’s militant ideology. Many eventually returned to Southeast Asia to form extremist groups of their own, including the notorious al Qaeda­–linked organization Jemaah Islamiyah that was responsible for several high-profile terrorist attacks in the region over the last 15 years. With evidence now surfacing of Southeast Asians among the ranks of ISIS casualties, it’s only natural that governments in the region are feeling a sense of déjà vu.

Who are the ‘willing’ in Obama’s anti-Islamic State coalition? – by Michael Pizzi September 4, 2014 2:30PM ET

U.S. airstrikes in Iraq have enabled allied ground forces to roll back the Islamic State insurgency on several key fronts, but with the clock almost up on stopgap unilateral action President Barack Obama has shifted gears. To “degrade and destroy” the Islamic State, Obama says, the U.S. will forge an international “coalition of the willing” to confront the extremists who have seized control of much of Syria and Iraq and declared war on every state in the Middle East.

Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at Sep 5, 2014 1.55“Our message to the entire region is this should be a wake-up call to Sunni, to Shia, to everybody that a group like [Islamic State] is beyond the pale,” Obama said last month. “We’ve got to all join together – even if we have differences on a range of political issues – to make sure that they’re rooted out.”

That argument resonates in capitals across the divided region. Iran is horrified by the group’s virulent anti-Shia ideology, and their wanton slaughter of Iraqi Shias. And Tehran’s arch-enemies in Riyadh fear the Islamic State as an ideological challenge to the legitimacy of Saudi claims to lead the Islamic world — similar to their fear of the Muslim Brotherhood. Iraq and Syria’s neighbors — Turkey, Jordan, and Iraqi Kurdish regions – fear spillover and even incursion.

While Washington appears to have already secured French and British support, other Western allies may be hesitant to sign onto an initiative that bears similarity in name and purpose to the “coalition of the willing” that backed the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, which is blamed by some for the current turmoil. With NATO distracted by the crisis in Ukraine, the heaviest burden of the fight against IS would have to be borne by the Middle Eastern countries most immediately in its sights, the administration has argued.

Despite their common hostility to IS, however, those powers remain at odds with one another, their strategic rivalry reinforcing nearby conflicts from Libya to Afghanistan. Obama is now asking Saudi Arabia and Iran, the region’s Sunni and Shia rivals, to align on a regional initiative when they’ve taken opposite sides in numerous proxy wars over the past decade and more. He’s asking Turkey to join a fight on the same side as radical Kurdish militias with which Ankara has been at war for decades. And neither the Saudis, Turks or Qataris – or some Western powers – are comfortable with a military campaign whose effect may be to inadvertently prolong the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

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House Homeland chief calls for ‘high state of alert’ ahead of Sept. 11 – By Rebecca Shabad September 02, 2014, 05:46 pm

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said Tuesday that the United States should be on a “high state of alert” as the anniversary of 9/11 approaches.

On CNN’s “The Situation Room,” McCaul was asked whether the U.S. should take special precautions for this year’s Sept. 11, due to threats from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

“Sadly and unfortunately, the answer is yes,” McCaul said. “They take anniversaries very seriously in terms of choosing when to attack in the United States.”

“I think we need to be on a high state of alert,” he added.

Asked if it’s time for the U.S. to raise its threat level as the United Kingdom has, McCaul said, “I do think the prime minister of the U.K. is moving in the right direction. I would encourage the president to do so.”

The U.K., however, has to deal with a “larger threat” from Islamic extremists simply because of its proximity to their locations, he added.

McCaul said the top priority for the Obama administration right now is to properly identify those fighting with these militant groups overseas to ensure they don’t travel to the homeland.

According to briefings McCaul said he has received, between 100 and 200 U.S. citizens are believed to be joining the fight in Iraq and Syria. He said that range might not be completely accurate because of a lack of intelligence on the ground.

McCaul’s comments come after a video surfaced Tuesday purporting to show the beheading of another U.S. journalist, Steven Sotloff. ISIS threatened to murder Sotloff after it beheaded fellow American journalist James Foley last month.

Sotloff’s death, McCaul said, is even more of a reason for U.S. airstrikes on ISIS in Syria.

“If this is not a wake-up call, what is?” he said. “This policy of containment needs to shift to a policy of defeating them.”

McCaul said President Obama does have the authority under the War Powers Act to launch airstrikes unilaterally in Syria without authorization from Congress.

Last week, Obama said the administration did not have a strategy yet to respond to ISIS in Syria.

Defense secretary: ISIS threat ‘beyond anything we’ve seen’ – By Kristina Wong – 08/21/14 05:56 PM EDT

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is beyond “just a terrorist group” and poses a greater threat than Al Qaeda, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday.

“This is beyond anything that we’ve seen,” he said during a briefing on Thursday afternoon about the Sunni militant group that has taken over territory in Iraq and Syria and earlier this week beheaded American journalist James Foley.

“ISIL is as sophisticated and well-funded as any group that we have seen,” Hagel said. “They marry ideology, a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess. They are tremendously well-funded.”
“So we must prepare for everything. And the only way you do that is that you take a cold, steely, hard look at it…and get ready,” he said.

Hagel’s remarks come months after Obama dismissed ISIS, calling the group “JV”.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said it was possible to “contain” ISIS, but “not in perpetuity.”

“This is an organization that has an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision and which will eventually have to be defeated,” said Dempsey, who spoke alongside Hagel.

Dempsey said for ISIS to be defeated, they would have to be addressed in Syria, possibly in part by airstrikes.

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