Bangladesh has a new prince – of terror.
Sheikh Abu Ibrahim al-Hanafi was recently introduced as Islamic State’s emir, or chief leader, for Bengal – as the terror group prefers to call the region. In a recent interview with the Islamic State’s propaganda magazine, Dabiq, Al-Hanafi vowed to banish ‘deviant’ and ‘apostate’ sects. His strategy is to use Bangladesh’s central location as a launchpad for operations into India and Myanmar.
The approach marks a new phase in Islamic State’s modus operandi that has far-reaching implications for the Indian sub-continent and Southeast Asia, as political analyst Phill Hynes tells Frontera Managing Editor Gavin Serkin on this week’s Emerging Opportunities show.
“It’s certainly a growing problem within the region,” says Hynes.
“On a strategic level, ISIS has strong aspirations for the creation of caliphates, or a broader caliphate. Where the epicenter of that will be is yet to be determined.”
The danger is compounded by the abject state of denial that the Bangladesh government has displayed toward deepening penetration of ISIS within the country. All layers of the bureaucracy, from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on down, are actively downplaying the expanding presence of Islamic extremism despite mounting evidence to the contrary.
Al-Hanafi’s appointment as the ‘ISIS emir’ in Bangladesh, and the allegiance now being displayed by his minions in the Bengal region, are changing the dynamic of regional political unrest. Ultimately this will present a greater challenge throughout the Indian subcontinent, beginning in Bangladesh, and potentially expanding into eastern India.
And Al-Hanafi stated in his interview, Myanmar is a priority for expansion – a logical target given the ongoing unrest and sporadic violence between Muslims and Buddhists there.
The desired ISIS endstate is for Bangladesh to act as a bridge between the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia for continued expansion. It is unclear how ISIS’s efforts on the sub-continent could spread into Malaysia or Southern Thailand at this point in time, given the highly complex situation in both regions. Currently there is no evidence that supports a viable ISIS presence in Thailand. However, as Frontera has previously reported, Malaysia does contain a growing ISIS threat, which could easily spread into the restive areas of southern Thailand.
It is also logical to see how extremist elements could easily spread from Bangladesh toward Indonesia, and ultimately into the Philippines. That, of course, is ISIS’s ultimate regional goal – the creation of a regional network that could create pockets of caliphates within Southeast Asia.
For those governments seeking to contain this evolving threat, the critical task will be to identify where an actual operational epicenter could take shape. It is our opinion that the ongoing Philippine election may play a substantial role in this process, as will the negotiations on the granting of an autonomous Islamic region on the large Philippine island of Mindanao.
The Indonesian port city of Poso also poses a particular challenge. However, the Indonesian security forces are proving to be highly effective in combatting extremist threats, and have been hammering ISIS affiliates or those seeking to align themselves with ISIS in that region.
Additionally, Hynes believes that the terrorist attacks that took place in Jakarta in January of this year were a clear demonstration of ineptitude, for want of a better description. He believes that the more competent elements of ISIS are now seeking to distance themselves from that particular debacle.
Listen to the full interview with Phill Hynes here:
Further analysis from Phill Hynes on Frontera News: