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    OpinionsBerlin Christmas market attack: Why Asia is as vulnerable

    Berlin Christmas market attack: Why Asia is as vulnerable


    Berlin Christmas market attack: Why Asia is as vulnerable

    Shantanu Mukharji

    IS-inspired elements hell-bent on striking soft targets like Indonesia and Malaysia to draw maximum attention.

    While the international spotlight is on the recent attack at Berlin Christmas market, where a hijacked truck drove right into a car killing 12 people and injuring nearly 50 others, some Asian countries are also believed to be on the radar of the Islamic terrorists this holiday season.

    Indonesia, infamous for the 2002 Bali bombings, is sitting on a powder keg as the police recently foiled a Christmas-time suicide bombing, killing three suspected Islamic terrorists in an encounter at South Tangerang, 33 km away from capital Jakarta. The suspects reportedly challenged the authorities and were audacious enough to hurl bombs at the police team. They had definite plans to bomb market places around the Christmas festivities. The desperation of the terrorists to carry out their attack became more evident by the fact that they tried to stab a police officer in full public view.

    These IS-inspired elements are hell-bent on striking soft targets to draw maximum international attention. The plot was disclosed by a member of an Islamic radical group. In the immediate aftermath of this disclosure, police had arrested four hardcore Islamic terrorists, including a female suicide bomber in Bekasi, east of Jakarta where the militants had specific plans to bomb one of the guard posts at the president's palace.

    The pattern of their planning shows that the home-grown terrorists, totally radicalised by the IS, are constantly trying to choose targets that will help them draw maximum attention.

    Also, they are continuously trying to keep this part of Asia volatile and vulnerable. It's possible that the IS is trying to proliferate its activities in Muslim-dominated countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia to “stage Europe-like attacks”. While investigations point out their active links with the IS leadership in Syria, what is more disturbing is the fact that hundreds of Indonesians have recently travelled to Syria to fight with the IS militants.

    Meanwhile, ahead of Christmas, Indonesia's Islamic Authority issued a fatwa forbidding Muslims from wearing “non-Muslim religious attributes”. Members of the Islam Defenders' Front have actively followed up by conducting raids in search of Christmas attire such as Santa hats. This shows the growing hatred and intolerance towards the minority in Indonesia and with this kind of hostility at heart, the attacks, if carried out, will prove absolute and decisive with far-reaching devastating consequences.

    Major radical Islamic groups, including Jamaah Islamiyah (JI), Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT) or Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) remain active in Indonesia overseeing several cells which can be activated when needed. They must be having international links with colleagues through social networking.

    In view of this, Indonesian authorities have stepped up their cyber security capabilities to pre-empt the ongoing radicalisation.

    Similar threats have also put Malaysia on the tenterhooks with possibilities of IS-inspired attacks. Authorities claim that they are not underestimating the capabilities of the Islamic terrorists in Malaysia.

    In the wake of the dastardly assassination of the Russian Ambassador in Turkey, followed by the Berlin Christmas market mayhem, the Malaysian police have stepped up security amid intelligence reports that IS leaders in Malaysia have issued a diktat to its local cadres to carry out lone wolf attacks. Such communications routed through social media by hardcore IS leader Muhammad Wanndy Mohamad Jedi, who is under the police lens, have instilled a sense of fear among the population, dampening the Christmas fervour.

    Police claim that a number of Malaysians travelling to Syria to fight along the IS fighters may have been reduced to around 60, but the process of mass radicalisation is still on, making the country more vulnerable especially before Christmas.

    Latest reports, in the meantime, reveal that a “significant ” IS-inspired Christmas Day terror plot targeting central Melbourne in Australia was foiled by the police, preventing deadly attacks as copious quantity of explosives were seized.

    Attacks were planned at prominent locations in Melbourne with specific target being a busy intersection throbbing with tourist activities. This location is barely a few kilometres from the Melbourne Ground where up to 100,000 spectators are expected to gather to watch the Boxing Day Test match between Pakistan and Australia.

    Other critical targets include Flinders Street train station, Federation Square and St Paul's Cathedral. The police are on high alert in Canberra too after a van laden with gas cylinders exploded outside the headquarters of the Australian Christian lobby group on Wednesday (December 21).

    This is a clear indication that Christians are the target and Christmas festivity remains vulnerable. The Australia-Indonesia-Malaysia belt is a focussed area for IS activists. Thankfully, authorities are vigilant, continuously trying to foil imminent threats. Yet, there is no room for any complacency and we don't know yet the connections between these groups within themselves and possibly with other countries in Asia, including .

    After all, this is their “common cause” to push the IS blueprint. They might act in concert taking all by surprise. With these wake-up calls and writings on the walls, Christmas and New Year revelry calls for maximum caution and alertness.

    Author is a retired IPS officer who has held key positions in the Government of India handling sensitive security issues within and outside India.

    The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.

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