- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 3, 2007

HONOLULU — In the war on terrorism in Southeast Asia, the fight against Islamic insurgents in the Philippines is making progress, a campaign against Jemaah Islamiyah in Indonesia has had some success and a Muslim uprising in southern Thailand has the nation on the verge of crisis.

That is the consensus of analysts who addressed a Honolulu conference of military officers, police officials, diplomats and other government officials from the United States, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, China, Japan, India and 10 other Asian nations.

Special operations forces usually maneuver in the shadows to disrupt or dismantle terrorist bands. Forces from the U.S. Pacific Command are trying to forge links with Asian forces to battle terrorists who have ideological and financial ties to al Qaeda.

Rohan Gunaratna, head of a Singaporean research center on terrorism, said Saudi Arabia has been financing much of the terrorism in Southeast Asia. Until 2003, funds went from the Saudis — supposed U.S. allies — to al Qaeda and through Pakistan to Southeast Asia. After the Pakistani channel was disrupted, the money was sent directly from Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Gunaratna said terrorists in Southeast Asia are increasingly driven by an ideology that calls for setting up an Islamic state centered on Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation. It would include the southern Philippines, Malaysia and southern Thailand, which also have large Muslim populations.

“Asian groups,” he said, “are becoming Arabized.”

U.S. special operations forces have helped Philippine forces develop intelligence skills, select targets and dismantle terrorist networks, he said. The Americans also have helped build roads, medical clinics and schools to encourage allegiance to the government in Manila.

Kristie Kenney, the U.S. ambassador to the Philippines, was optimistic. “We are actually winning the war against terror in the Philippines,” she said.

An Indonesian police unit, Detachment 88, has had “significant successes against terrorist operational cells,” Mr. Gunaratna said. He added, however, that the political environment is “permissive,” allowing terrorists “to rest, recover and strike back.”

Terrorist training in Indonesia, he said, includes instruction on avoiding communication wiretaps, breaking patterns of operational activity and hiding secret documents. A recovered training manual also explained how to spot disinformation and to prevent police penetration of cells.

If efforts are succeeding in the Philippines and uncertain in Indonesia, they are rapidly collapsing in Thailand. Zachary Abuza, a scholar who analyzes Southeast Asian terrorism and has just returned from nearly a year in Thailand, said the situation is “out of control.”

Along Thailand’s southern border with Malaysia, a large minority of Muslims claim oppression by the Buddhist majority. The region is ripe for insurgents, who have adopted terrorist tactics to battle Bangkok.

Mr. Abuza, who teaches at Simmons College in Boston, said about 2,200 people have been killed in the past three years, more than half of them Muslims. Forty have been beheaded. Pipe bombs that earlier held 2.2 pounds of explosives are now packed with 55 pounds. Many Buddhists, including teachers who were seen an oppressors, have fled.

“The level of violence is at a crisis point,” Mr. Abuza said.

Sidney Jones of the International Crisis Group, a nongovernmental organization that tracks conflicts around the world, agrees.

“Time is running out,” she said. “We could see a real explosion; we are right on the verge of that.”

Mr. Abuza added that Saudis have been funding insurgents in Thailand.

Jemaah Islamiyah terrorists in Indonesia have been helping Thai Muslims but have not tried to take over their movement.

A lack of bureaucratic cooperation has paralyzed the Thai government, Mr. Abuza said. After a military coup in September, the ruling council declared martial law, suspended the constitution, dissolved parliament, canceled elections and banned political activity. About 1,700 people were arrested, but the actions failed to stop the terrorists.

Maj. Gen. David Fridovich, who commands U.S. special operations forces in the Pacific, said the United States is ready to help the Thais, “but it’s for them to ask us.”

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