Southeast Asians En Route to Middle East to Fight the Israelis: Bombastic Threats of a Previously Unknown Organization or the Real Deal?
News reports carried on the website of the Indonesian daily Detik and by the Antara news wire are making clear that the events in the Middle East are reverberating in Southeast Asia. The two articles report that a group of 217 Southeast Asian jihadis have pledged to travel to Lebanon to fight the Israelis. This group, calling themselves the Palestine Jihad Bombing Troops (PBJ) is hitherto unknown. However, at the group’s 19 July meeting in Jakarta, the spokesman/organizer was Suaib Didu, the head of the radical Indonesian student organization, the Islamic Youth Movement (known by its Indonesian acronym, GPI). Suaib is also chairman of AMSEC (ASEAN Muslim Youth Secretariat), in whose capacity this week’s meeting/press conference was held. At the meeting, Suaib, presented 12 of the 217 jihadis. According to press reports, they were “dressed entirely in black and wore full face balaclavas.” Several of the 12 claimed to be Afghan veterans. Suaib explained, "They came here today to discuss plans for their fight in Palestine."
What is notable is that the PBJ is a pan-regional organization, and not an Indonesian grouping. Suaib explained that 72 of the 217 were Indonesian but that 57 were from the Philippines, 36 from Malaysia, 43 from Thailand, five from Brunei, three from Bangladesh and one from Singapore. He claimed that 22 of them “had waged jihad in Afghanistan with the Mojahedin.” They would leave from their respective countries and regroup in an undisclosed third country. He did not indicate if they would be fighting alongside Hamas or Hizbollah, or if either of those organizations or state was facilitating their travel.
Indonesian groups, such as the GPI and Habib Rizieq’s Islamic Defender’s Front (FPI) have been vociferous in their condemnation of the US and especially its policies in the Middle East. Both led large protests in the run-up to the Iraq war, and the GPI allegedly threatened to attack the US Embassy in Jakarta at the time. The GPI has sent recruits to Bosnia and Chechnya before. Both the GPI and FPI vowed to send mujihidin to fight the Americans in Iraq in 2003, though few actually made it. This time could be different, for several reasons.
First, it is the Holy Land. Southeast Asian Islamists and Jihadists are always seeking to bring the Islamic periphery into the Muslim core, and convince their Arab coreligionists that they are true Muslims (IE, see for example the skepticism of Abu Bakr Naji in the Management of Savagery). There is no better way to prove their Islamic faith than to fight against Israel in the Holy Land. Second, Jihadists across southeast Asia have been seeking for ways to both recruit anew and to tap into more mainstream Islamist movements.
Suaib denied that the 217 had any links to terrorist/insurgent organizations in the region and said that this was strictly a show of Islamic solidarity and part of their obligation to the ummah.