Internet growing weapon in Asian radicalisation

SYDNEY, (Reuters) – Extremist groups in Southeast  Asia are increasingly using the internet and social networking  to radicalise the youth of the region, said a new security  report released on Friday.

Internet usage in Southeast Asia has exploded since 2000  and extremist groups have developed a sophisticated online  presence, including professional media units.

“For extremist groups in our region, the internet is an  increasingly important tool for recruitment to violence,” said  the report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and S.  Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

“Importantly, they aren’t attacking only the West, but are  drawing on their narrative to attack the governance  arrangements of regional states,” said the report titled  “Countering internet radicalisation in Southeast Asia”  (www.aspi.org.au/).

The report said online extremism first appeared in  Southeast Asia in early 2000, particularly in the Bahasa  Indonesia and Malay language cyber-environment.

Since then internet usage in the region has exploded and so  too have extremist websites, chat rooms and blogs.

The number of radical and extremist websites in Bahasa and  Malay rose from 15 in 2007 to 117 in 2008. Of those,  sympathetic websites rose from 10 to 16 and sympathetic blogs  and social networking rose from zero to 82.

Between 2006 and July 2007, radical regional websites have  disseminated al-Qaeda and Southeast Asian militant group Jemaah  Islamiah propaganda videos, pictures and statements, it said. In Indonesia, which has battled extremist Muslim groups  responsible for bombings, internet usage rose from 2 million in  2000 to 20 million in January 2008.

The country now represents 80 to 90 percent of visitors to  10 radical and extremist websites in the region, said the  report.

The Philippines, which has a Muslim insurgency, has seen  internet usage rise to 14 million from 2 million in 2000,  Malaysia 14.9 million from 3.7 million and Thailand 8.5 million  from 2.3 million in the same period.

“The Bahasa and Malay language websites include sites  manned by radical and extremist groups, Islamic boarding  schools (pesantrens), and groups of individuals who sympathise  with and support the ideology of violent jihad,” said the  report.

One of the first appearances of a “tradecraft manual” was  in August 2007 in the then forum, Jihad al-Firdaus. The forum  had a section on electronic jihad, including several hacking  manuals. In 2008 the region’s first sophisticated bomb-making  manual and bomb-making video were posted on the Forum  Al-Tawbah, which is registered in Shah Alam, Selangor and  Malaysia, said the report.

But it said there had been no serious attempt to plan  militant operations in these forums, adding further details of  their activities were in private messages or personal emails.

Extremists were using a variety of technology to spread  their message. “Blogs and personal social networking accounts  provided more than half of the increase in 2008,” said the  report.

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