On 5 September, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri released a video announcing the formation of a new South Asian branch of AQ, “Qaedat al-Jihad in the Indian Subcontinent.” Zawahiri stated the group will “raise the flag of jihad” across the Indian subcontinent, as well as Myanmar and Bangladesh, and called upon Muslims “to wage jihad against its enemies, to liberate its land, to restore its sovereignty and to revive its caliphate.” Zawahiri states that a south Asian wing would benefit Muslims in Myanmar, Bangladesh and in the Indian states of Assam, Gujarat, Jammu and Kashmir, who would be freed from “injustice and oppression.”
In his message, also Zawahiri also announced that Pakistani militant Asim Umar would be the emir of al Qaeda’s South Asian wing, entrusted with reviving the network in the area spanning from Afghanistan to Myanmar. Little is known of Umar: he is believed to be in his mid-forties and is perceived as an ideologist and intellectual rather than a fighter. He is thought have had a crucial role in creating radicalized seminaries and madrassas, and he is known to have strong connections with Islamic seminaries in Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan. It is believed that Umar organised Osama bin Laden’s move to a safe house in Abbottabad, where the 9/11 mastermind he lived for years prior to his capture by U.S. forces.
Zawahiri’s announcement signifies an attempt for AQ resurgence in south Asia, where the group was considerably weakened over a series of targeted attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan by the US and allied forces. While the core group was diminished, affiliates have gained momentum in the Middle East and Africa. The group took advantage of power vacuums created during the 2011 Arab uprisings that swept the Middle East and North Africa to spread their ideologies. Thus, while AQ central has become weaker, the group’s affiliates have gained strength in several places including Mali, Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, Libya, Yemen, Syria and Iraq. In Africa, AQ has affiliates have gained in Somalia through al-Shabaab, which has spread chaos into Uganda and Kenya, and in Nigeria through Boko Haram, which has affected north-eastern Nigeria, Cameroon and Niger. These affiliates are now considerably stronger than the core AQ group. The announcement of a new AQ wing in South Asia indicates that the group has accepted this new ‘business model’ and seeks to reassert its relevance in the region by opening a new branch.
Following the release of Zawahiri’s 55 minute video message, India’s intelligence bureau issued security alerts across several provinces in the county. Zawahiri’s announcement came just hours after several news reports announced that the militant group ISIS was also conducting recruitment operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The news reports indicated that ISIS militants were distributing pamphlets in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region; the pamphlets called for the establishment of a caliphate in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran. Zawahiri’s speech appeared to emphasise that the formation of the branch was not in direct response to ISIS, but the culmination of a longer process. In his message, he said, “This entity was not established today but is the fruit of a blessed effort of more than two years to gather the mujahedeen in the Indian sub-continent into a single entity.”
ISIS influence in India
Prior to the news reports on 5 September, ISIS was believed to focus its efforts on developing a ‘caliphate’ in areas the group had conquered in Iraq and Syria. In July, the group called for Muslims around the world to join them in establishing their new location. However it appears now that ISIS agents have been widening their efforts to recruit members of India’s Muslim community, the second largest in the world, with over 175 million Muslims.
In a speech on 5 July, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ‘caliph’ of ISIS, made three specific references to India, first stating that Muslim rights in the nation were “forcibly seized”, then referencing atrocities committed against Muslims in Kashmir. Finally, he included India in a reference that the caliphate had “gathered the Caucasian, Indian, Chinese, Shami, Iraqi, Yemeni, Egyptian, Maghrabi, American, French, German and Australian” recruits. It is known that some Indians have already left their nation to join ISIS in Iraq and Syria. On 25 August, Indian engineering student Arif Ejaz Majeed became the first Indian reported to be killed while fighting for ISIS in Iraq. He and three friends reportedly went missing in May, and made contact with their families in June to notify them that the quartet had travelled to Iraq to join the radical group.
ISIS does not have a physical presence in India, yet through social media, the group is seeking to develop a ‘fringe’ subculture amongst potential followers in the region. Like other extreme groups, ISIS has cultivated a message which exploits the emotions of socially or economically marginalised people while simultaneously issuing a welcome for Muslims into their caliphate. The tactic is intended to attract dissatisfied members of Indian Muslim community and encourage those disenchanted individuals to do the ‘heavy lifting’ to attract others. An example of this effort already taking shape is a group called al-Isabah Media Production. The media production group is under the umbrella of a new group called Ansar ut-Tawhid fi Bilad al-Hind (Supporters of Monotheism in the Land of India). This group translates ISIS propaganda into Hindu, Urdu and Tamil, and then delivers the messages through social media. While al-Isabah’s social media profiles on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter were removed after discovery, they still spread information through online chat rooms and other forums. This shows that ISIS does not necessarily need a physical presence in order to gain momentum in the region. This momentum has been most visible in the highly disputed region of Kashmir, where reports emerged that ISIS flags were being raised by young Muslim protestors in Srinagar. During two instances in July, young men in black masks raised the ISIS flag during protests of the Israeli airstrikes in Gaza. The incidents raised concerns in Kashmir, where Sunni and Shi’a Muslims have lived together harmoniously, that the introduction of ISIS ideology could create a sectarian divide. India has a very strong moderate Islamic core which is unlikely to allow space for ISIS or AQ, however, the instances where the militant groups have gained sympathy indicate that there are areas where troubles are significant enough for the groups to exploit by introducing an artificial identity crisis.
Competition or Unity
ISIS, formerly al-Qaeda in Iraq, severed ties with AQ in early 2014. ISIS quickly gained prominence through masterful use of propaganda and their rapid advancement through Iraq and Syria. The divergent groups have since been competing for new recruits, but AQ has been left overshadowed by ISIL’s media savvy. In part, AQ has been consistently overshadowed because its leader, Zawahiri, has remained underground, while ISIS has brazenly announced is movements. It could be this distinction that drove Zawahiri into making his rare appearance last week.
In Zawahiri’s message, he states, “O mujahideen, unite and reject differences and discord, and hold firm to the rope of Allah and be not divided amongst yourselves.” These references to rejecting differences could be a veiled message to encourage the groups to unite. He adds, “This entity, Allah permitting, was established to unite with its mujahideen brothers and the Muslims all over the world, and to crush the artificial borders established by the English occupiers to divide the Muslims in the Indian subcontinent.”
It is possible that Zawahiri is desperate to reunite ISIS and AQ in order to form one organisation rather than competing for a market share of radicalised minds. There is no indication, however, that ISIS intends to reunite with AQ. On the contrary, ISIS has actively urged AQ affiliates to leave their branch and join the newer organization.
The regional measures that followed the spike of piracy in South East Asia in the early 2000s are widely, and rightly, hailed as a successful example of maritime security co-operation. However, piracy is now undergoing a dramatic increase again in the region, with Indonesian waters now suffering the largest number of attacks worldwide as the pirates increasingly adapt to the new security situation.
In 2003, piracy reached record highs in South East Asia, with 445 incidents reported in Indonesian waters and similarly high levels in other regional nations. Following this, the nations that border the strategically crucial Straits of Malacca (Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia, with some assistance from Thailand and India) made moves to improve their naval co-operation in order to deal with the growing piracy crisis. Well publicised publicity campaigns with dramatic pictures of large warships patrolling the Straits highlighted a significantly more robust security posture, which saw a drastic reduction in rates of piracy.
This attempt to present a ‘United Front’ masks many legitimate issues between the nations – extremely disparate geographical positions, economies, military expenditure and naval strength all continue to cause friction. However the attempt at regional co-operation was broadly successful for several years, and even now with piracy once more on the rise through South East Asia, the Straits of Malacca themselves remain broadly safe for international shipping (at least compared to the past).
However, with a 440% increase in piracy in Indonesian waters between 2009 and 2012, it appears that the security response is now proving less effective than previously. This is largely because pirates have adapted to the new security situation. Instead of attempting to attack and hijack vessels in transit in the Straits of Malacca, they instead focus on boarding and robbing ships berthed in the Indonesian harbours along the Straits. From 2004 to December last year, Indonesian anchorages were placed on the U.S Coast Guard port advisory list because of their poor security, a ban only lifted following some American investment and training. It is worth noting that the US was concerned primarily with counter-terrorist performance, and many nominal improvements directed at preventing piracy and armed robberies are likely ineffective.
Similarly, pirates have also moved their bases of operations to avoid the naval forces and attack ships entering or exiting the Straits. Instead of their traditional bases actually in the Straits of Malacca themselves, many are now based to the south, using secretive parts of Jambi province for their hideaways. Others have moved east towards the South China Sea, and operate instead on the open seas far from coasts and patrols. The isolated island groups in these areas, such as the Anambas and Natuna islands, are remote and located close to the major international shipping lanes entering the Straits. Another island, Pulau Batam near Singapore, has also emerged as another favoured base of operations – as a source of cheap manufacturing for Singapore, severe economic difficulties and influxes of poor migrants have provided both the motivation and a ready labour pool, including local fisherman, for piracy targeted at ships in the Malacca straits. These coastal regions are remote and covered with mangrove swamps and shallow inlets and estuaries – perfect locations for hiding pirate vessels.
So far, it appears the nations in this region, particularly Indonesia, are failing to make the necessary adaptations to the new environment, leading to the resurgence of piracy in the region. The authorities tend to focus purely on the military and political aspects of piracy, with no attempts to deal with the root economic causes. The large warships that protect the Straits of Malacca are in general too big to track pirates back to their bases, with this task usually left to lower level local law enforcement, often equipped only with small wooden boats. This problem is particularly pronounced in Indonesia, which has the weakest navy in the region and the largest coastline, and as the world’s largest archipelagic nation has over 18’000 islands perfectly suited to hiding pirate activity. Until a new security approach is taken that accounts for the now changed environment, it appears that the trend of increasing piracy in South East Asia will continue.
There was a low level of activity throughout the month of May, with only 8 reported incidents compared with 18 in April. This also represents a four year low for occurrences in May throughout the region. However, it is worth noting that monthly trends can and do fluctuate drastically, and that the general trend, particularly in SE Asia, is of increasing numbers of incidents following low levels several years ago.
The most notable incident was certainly the hijacking of a Chinese fishing vessel by North Korean naval forces. A large ransom was demanded by the North Koreans, but it is reported none was paid in this instance and the vessel was safely released.
Continued frequency of attacks on tugs and barges in Indonesian waters likely indicates these vessels are particularly vulnerable, and may need to consider heightened security accordingly.
Incident Occurrences by Country
May 23rd, Bangladesh – GOLDEN ADVENTURE boarded at Chittagong Anchorage, attempted robbery
May 24th, Indonesia – ANNA BARBARA boarded at Cigading Anchorage, successful armed robbery
May 20th, Indonesia – KOH-I-NOOR boarded at Belawan port, attempted armed robbery
May 15th, Malaysia – CREST 289 robbed 30nm northwest of Pulau Tioman
May 12th, Indonesia – CREST 2825, 3nm northwest Pulau Batam, robbed while being towed
May 12th, Indonesia – SAM HAWK boarded at Taboneo Anchorage, robbed
May 7th, Indonesia – fishing vessel PKFB 1532 attacked and hijacked in the Straits of Malacca. Vessel subsequently recovered by Indonesian Marine Police on 25th May.
May 5th, China – fishing vessel, the LIAONING GENERIC 2500, hijacked by suspected North Korean naval forces. Crew and vessel released on May 21st.
Between 0400 – 0500 local time yesterday (10th June, 2013), unknown individuals successfully boarded a bulk carrier waiting for loading in Taboneo Anchorage, Indonesia. While on board, they remained undetected and succeeded in stealing stores from the ship and escaping.
This is the fourth similar occurrence in a little over a week throughout Indonesia, with two incidents taking place at Belawan anchorage on the 3rd and 8th of June and one at Muara Jawa anchorage also on the 3rd. While yesterday’s robbery was successful, the other three in the past week were foiled by the alertness of the ship’s duty crew.
These incidents demonstrate some common characteristics. The robbers used small boats to approach the ships in harbour, and then used either the anchor chain or ropes to board the vessel, with the apparent aim in all incidents of gaining access to the ship’s stores. Reports suggest that the individuals were usually also armed with knives or machetes, though in all of these incidents they fled when confronted by alert crew. While the authorities were notified, as of writing no individuals have been arrested in connection with these incidents.
Poor security at Indonesian ports has remained a recurring cause for concern in recent years. From 2004 onwards many Indonesian ports were placed on the U.S Coast Guard’s Port Security Advisory list as a result of failures in security practices, a ban only lifted in December last year following some American investment and training. However, despite these nominal improvements it is worth noting that the US Coast Guard’s primary concern was with poor counter-terrorist performance, not with piracy or armed robbery prevention.
In fact, reporting suggests there is a growing problem with security in Indonesian anchorages. The International Maritime Bureau strongly criticised Indonesia’s performance at the end of last year after a reported 81 occurrences of robbery – the highest following year on year increases since 2009. So far in 2013, reporting from numerous sources suggests the trend will continue to increase this year as well. Indeed, due to the problem of significant underreporting, the actual number of incidents is almost certainly much higher that officially recorded.
The reduction in piracy in South East Asia, particularly the Straits of Malacca, following extreme highs in 2003 is touted as a successful example of regional cooperation. However evidence shows that the problem of piracy throughout the region is now on the rise again and that many gains may be on the verge of reversal. In particular, the Indonesian National Security Sea Coordination Board has reportedly dismissed the IMB criticism of its performance against armed robbery in ports and argued the incidents are not a serious concern despite the dramatic increase in incidents.
Opportunistic armed robbery targeting vessels in Indonesian anchorages is now a problem that is steadily on the increase. Small groups of robbers seek to steal stores or cargo and are normally prevented by the actions of alert crew instead of port security authorities. These individuals are often armed, typically with knives and machetes but also reportedly with firearms in some past incidents. While they normally flee when confronted, some past incidents have involved hostage taking and violence.
Belawan port in particular is prone to these incidents, accounting for over an eighth of the total in 2012 and a similar level so far this year. Nevertheless, vessels in all anchorages throughout Indonesia should remain aware of the high levels of armed robbery against anchored ships and the need for vigilant security.
Asia – Pacific Summary
Incidents Occurring in April, 2013
There were 18 reported incidents in the Asia- Pacific region in the month of April, 2013. All of these occurred in the South East Asian region, with no incidents in North East Asia or the Pacific reported.
The most notable incidents appear to be the boarding of HUB 21 on the 24th of April, which involved violence directed at crewmembers, and the sighting of the ENG TOU 266 on the 22nd April, a stolen barge that is yet to have been recovered.
Most incidents involved armed robbery targeting ships anchored in ports throughout the SE Asian region, particularly in Indonesia.
Incident Occurrences by Country
30th April, Indonesia – KOH-I-NOOR boarded at Belawan port, robbed during customs operations.
29th April, Indonesia – CREST 2821 boarded 3.2 NM northwest of Pulau Batam, robbed.
27th April, Indonesia – FAIRCHAM MAVERICK boarded at Belawan port, robbed.
24th April, Indonesia – NADIYA MELISENDE boarded 16 NM north-northeast of Bintan Island, robbed.
24th April, Indonesia – HUB 21 boarded 53 NM north-northeast of Bintan Island. 15 pirates in 3 speedboats boarded vessel armed with knives and guns, took nine crew members hostage and assaulted some, before stealing cash and properties.
22nd April, Malaysia – ENG TOU 266 observed off Tanjung Ayam. This stolen barge was being towed by an unidentified tug, and has yet to be recovered.
23rd April, Indonesia – AD PHEONIX boarded 15 NM north-northeast of Bintan Island. Armed pirates boarded and robbed vessel.
19th April, Indonesia – SINGAPORE RIVER boarded at Dumai Anchorage. Armed robbers tied up crewmember at knifepoint, and escaped with stolen property.
17th April, Vietnam – IVS MAGPIE boarded at Cam Pha anchorage, attempted robbery.
13th April, Indonesia – DENSA JAGUAR boarded at Surabaya Port, attempted armed robbery.
9th April, Vietnam – WESTGATE boarded at Ho Chi Min Port, robbed.
6th April, Indonesia – MAERSK BERING boarded at Belawan port, robbed. Robbers later contacted shipping agent offering to sell back stolen items.
5th April, India – NEW CENTURY attempted boarding at Visakhapatnam Anchorage.
4th April, Indonesia – GARDEN CITY RIVER boarded at Dumai Anchorage, robbed.
3rd April, Indonesia – IVER EXACT attempted boarding at Dumai Anchorage.
3rd April, Indonesia – SHER E PUNJAB boarded at Adang Bay Anchorage, armed robbers took crewmembers hostage and stole stores.
2nd April, Vietnam – WEHR BLANKESE boarded at Ho Chi Min port, robbed.
1st April, Bangladesh – CRANE boarded at Chittagong anchorage, armed robbers fled before stealing anything.
1st April, Indian Ocean – CONDOR observed suspicious activity in form of a group of boats, sent crew to citadel and took evasive action. This incident is not included in above figures.