Despite their fundamentalist views and brutal actions such as decapitating captured journalists on video, the ISIS continues to find supporters and sympathizers across the globe. In South East and South Asia and in particular Indonesia and Malaysia, security agencies are struggling to cope with what seems to be large groups of people heading to Syria, Iraq and other countries in the Middle East to back the ISIS in whichever way possible, writes Siddharth Srivastava.

There are reports of IS backers heading back home to foment trouble. Despite the apparent police crackdown in Malaysia, Indonesia and elsewhere, security experts say the detentions so far are just the tip of the iceberg with majority of cases remaining undetected due to lack of intelligence, inefficient policing and absence of coordinated global efforts to isolate the extremists. Officials also refer to use of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter by the extremists to reach out to new recruits and extend their influence beyond local areas.

India and Australia are also under the scanner. Australia, that has been involved in actions against extremists in the Middle East, has witnessed at least three incidents in the recent past that have linked to violent individuals with empathy towards the IS.

They include the attack at the Sydney Lindt Chocolat Café in December. Australian security officials have warned that radicalized fighters, estimated to number over 150, could return home from Syria and Iraq to orchestrate attacks in their own country.

Bangalore, India’s global outsourcing and information technology hub was also in the news when the police arrested 24-year old engineer Mehdi Masroor Biswas alleged to be the handler of the Twitter account of the ISIS.

The Bangalore police that have since been threatened by the ISIS have claimed that Biswas has admitted he was handling the pro-jihad tweeter “@shamiwitness” used to incite and inform new ISIS recruits.


Women in ISIS

What has also been particularly shocking is involvement of extremist women keen to join or help the ISIS fighters despite rising evidence of atrocities being committed by the rebels on females. These include rape, women being forcibly married to terrorists, treated as sex slaves and being coerced to undergo genital mutilation that can cause grievous harm, both mental and physical.

In an instance of extreme brutality IS militants reportedly beheaded at least 150 women, some of them pregnant, in Iraq for refusing to marry them. The UN has said one of the two Austrian girls who fled their middle class homes in Vienna to fight in Syria has died in the conflict. The two Viennese girls, Samra Kesinovic, 17, and 15-year-old Sabina Selimovic, whose parents are Bosnian refugees, disappeared in April saying they wanted to fight in Syria. It is suspected an Islamic preacher from Bosnia living in Vienna brainwashed the young girls, who it is believed married IS fighters.

Significantly, a whole lot of suspected Jehadis, including women, are educated, reasonably well-off and employed in respectable professions.

The existence of radical women in SE and South Asia replicates a trend that has already been spoken about by Western media. A New York Times report in October 2014 spoke about increasing number of young women, besides young Muslim men, seeking to join the ISIS to fight or become wives of fighters. The report said that analysts estimate about 10% of recruits from the West are women influenced by social media networks that offer advice, tips and even logistical support for travel.

“While some women are attracted to the idea of marrying a fighter, others are joining IS because it provides a new utopian politics, participating in jihad and being part of the creation of a new Islamic State,” the report quoted Katherine E. Brown, a lecturer in defense studies at King’s College, London.

Reflecting on involvement of women as terrorists, a November 2013 report by the Center on Global Counterterrorism Cooperation, “Strengthening Community Resilience Against Violence and Extremism: The Roles of Women in South Asia,” says, “women’s participation in terrorism and violent extremism may be a deliberate choice shaped by their personal convictions and experiences. Rather than preventing family members from engaging in violence, they may push children and family members to aspire to martyrdom and support terrorist organizations through such activities as propaganda, recruitment, and fundraising and other forms of support. Like their male counterparts, women can also be drawn to participate in terrorism to avenge a sense of personal or familial dishonor.”

Indeed, there exists a body of analysis that prescribes that pre-emptive measures to contain women from terrorist groups needs to be different from the way men are handled. Gender sensitivities and issues linked to personal honor, even false and deceitful promises of a better and more fulfilling life by consorting with terrorists need to be addressed and delicately handled.