Southeast Asia Mid-Month Report: Dec 1st – 15th 2017
Compared to previous months, there has been significantly more protests recorded by Intelligence Fusion in the Philippines in the first half of December. There have been incidents of demonstrations recorded throughout the month, but December 10th saw the most. December 10th marks International Human Rights Day, and protestors were out in full force, particularly in the Visayas region of the Philippines. Protestors used the day to denounce the policies of President Duterte and his administration, as well as denounce the proposal to extend martial law in the Philippines until December 31st, 2018. Several other protests were held in the early days of the month specifically to denounce the proposal for the extension of martial law, and others were held on December 13th when Congress approved the extension. Protestors against the extension of martial law are worried that indigenous communities, left leaning activists and human rights activists, particularly in Mindanao, would be targeted as sympathizers of the communist insurgency, which will be a focus of military action under martial law.
Incidents regarding criminality, particularly drugs, continues to affect the whole of the country. Of significance in the first half of December was the return of the Philippine National Police to the War on Drugs. While police officers will rejoin the effort, it will continue to be led by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, under which it has been a less violent operation. In regard to shootings, the month has seen a high number of shootings in the provinces of Cavite and Batangas, while Metro Manila continues to see the most shootings of any of the large cities.
December has continued to see the Armed Forces of the Philippines engaged on several fronts with armed groups. In Maguindanao, there has continued to be incidents by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters. Of these, the most significant incident was an attack by the group on an army detachment located in Timbagan, Shariff Aguak. BIFF group members fired rocket-propelled grenades indiscriminately at the area where the soldiers were located. However, civilians living near the army detachment were caught in the crossfire, and 2 were killed while 6 were wounded. An army convoy had been targeted in the same village by a roadside IED on November 15th, around the same time that government troops began an offensive against the group. The recent attack shows that the group continues to be a threat, particularly around Maguindanao province.
In the Sulu archipelago, Abu Sayyaf continues to remain a threat, albeit less active than earlier in the year. Several skirmishes have taken place between the group’s fighters and government forces, as well as against Moro National Liberation Front fighters. Jolo island remains the primary location of the armed engagements. Secondly, while no new individuals were kidnapped in the first half of this month, the group released 6 individuals on December 1st, whom they had kidnapped in November. All were local residents. On December 8th, however, the body of a Vietnamese ship captain who had been abducted in November 2016, was found in Barangay Bus-Bus, Jolo, after having been executed. Skirmishes will likely be seen in the second half of the month, as security forces continue to push to eliminate the group. With the continued losses the group has faced, there is always the possibility of a significant incident such a bombing or large-scale attack could take place, particularly around the holidays, to show their continued presence.
Regarding the communist insurgency, the beginning of the month has seen a high rate of attacks, particularly after the peace talks were deemed over, late last month, and President Duterte signed a proclamation declaring the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army a terrorist organisation earlier this month. Attacks continue to take place nationwide, and there is no reason in the near future why the rate of incidents recorded should drop. Most heavy losses on either side were incurred in the early days of the month, particularly an attack which took place on December 2nd in which 1 policeman was killed and 6 others were wounded when they were ambushed in Labo town, Camarines Norte. In Mindanao, several days of skirmishes between the groups in the area of Lake Sebu, South Cotabato, led to 7 NPA rebels and 2 government soldiers killed. Despite a large number of skirmishes, there continues to be rebels surrendering, primarily in Mindanao.
Elsewhere in Mindanao, the most significant incident was a roadside bombing in Barangay Mirab, North Upi, Maguindanao, which wounded 7 Marines from the 5th Marine Battalion. No group has claimed the bombing, and authorities have said they didn’t believe the BIFF were responsible. Some have suggested the New People’s Army could be responsible, but the area where the bombing took place is not an area of operation of the communist rebels, making them an unlikely responsible party.
Incidents recorded in Singapore in the first half of December have for the most part been categorized as arrests. Most arrests have been made in large multi-day police operations across the island. Between December 5th and 7th, 101 individuals were arrested for their involvement in scams that have been worth a total of S$1.2 million. These scams involved false relationships to gain access to victims’ ATM personal identification numbers. Around the same time period, between December 5th and 8th, 49 individuals, mainly women, were arrested for vice-related activities in western Singapore, in the areas of Bukit Batok, Chua Chu Kang, Jurong West, and Woodlands. Elsewhere, in Geylang and entertainment outlets around the Sentosa Gateway, on December 1st and 3rd respectively, police arrested a total of 24 individuals. The majority were arrested for being members of secret societies (gangs). The recorded incidents in the first half of the month are in line with the type of crime usually seen in the country, which involves vice related crime such as gambling and prostitution, as well as cybercrimes. Violent crime remains rare, as firearms are controlled heavily by the government.
The first half of December has primarily seen three categories of incidents: drug trafficking, arrests of terrorists, and protests related to the United States’ decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. In regard to drug trafficking, there were two significant incidents. The first was the arrests of four individuals on December 1st at the Sultan Syarif Kasim II International Airport in Pekanbaru, Riau. The four suspects were arrested with 5.75kg of crystal methamphetamine on their way to Bandung, West Java. The second was the arrests of six individuals, including two police officers, in Medan, North Sumatra. One of the civilians was shot and killed when he resisted arrest. Authorities seized 15kg of crystal methamphetamine from the suspects. While the number of drug related incidents have decreased compared to previous months, this may be due to lack of reporting rather than an actual decrease of drug trafficking. The maritime border between Indonesia and Malaysia continues to be one of the primary routes for the flow of illicit drugs.
Of more significance this month, has been the arrests of 21 terrorism suspects in a series of counter-terror raids primarily on Sumatra and Java islands. The arrests took place between December 9th and 11th. On the 9th, three terrorism suspects were arrested in East Java in Sidoarjo, Surabaya, and Malang. Two of the men were suspected of being members of Abu Jandal, while the third was suspected of being part of Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid. Also on the 9th, a father and his 15-year-old son were detained in West Kalimantan for having posted calls to Jihad on social media. The son’s involvement was not detailed, but he was arrested nonetheless. The bulk of the arrests were made on the 10th and 11th on the island of Sumatra. 12 individuals were arrested in South Sumatra, with some individuals believed to have ties to Jamaah Anshar Khilafa, and involved in the smuggling of weapons which were used in the January 2016 Jakarta terror attack. Finally, 4 suspects were arrested in Riau province. The four are suspected of having links to Jamaah Ansharut Daulah, and authorities say, had plans to attack police stations. One of the suspects had volunteered to be a suicide bomber, with the Police’s Mobile Brigade Unit’s Riau province headquarters as a target. The number of arrests is a significant increase from the previous month, but expected with the holiday season beginning and authorities wanting to prevent any terror plot. The arrests also were made a month after two militants were killed when they set fire to the Dharmasraya Police Headquarters in West Sumatra on November 12th. Terrorism remains an important preoccupation for Indonesia’s security forces with the return and influence of Indonesian militants who have gone to fight in the Middle East with the Islamic State, as well as the possibility of militants from the Southern Philippines launching attacks or supporting militants already in Indonesia.
Finally, since President Donald Trump’s decision to formally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, there has been worldwide condemnation and protests, including in Asia. The world’s largest Muslim country, Indonesia, saw a number of protests since the decision, primarily on Friday December 8th. On that Friday, hundreds protested outside the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, but also in the country’s second largest city, Surabaya, as well as Makassar and Banda Aceh. Protests continued on Sunday, December 10th, when approximately 6,000 protesters gathered outside the U.S. Embassy, led by the Islamist Prosperous Justice Party. Nearby, at the Hotel Indonesia roundabout in Jakarta, a few hundred protesters led by the Indonesia Volunteer Society held their own protest. The next day, hundreds of protesters gathered once again in front of the U.S. Embassy to denounce the United States’ decision regarding Jerusalem. Israeli and U.S. flags were set on fire at the protests. Besides the protests, both President Jokowi and his Foreign Minister condemned the decision and said that it could shake up security in the region and potentially across the world. Time will tell whether the United States’ decision will have a negative impact on the country’s diplomatic and potentially economic relationship with Indonesia.
Similar to Indonesia, Malaysia has shown condemnation towards the United States’ decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Prime Minister Najib Razak called on Muslims in Malaysia and worldwide to make their voices heard against the U.S.’s decision. However, while he condemned the decision, he also ensured that bilateral ties between Malaysia and the U.S. would not be affected. Intelligence Fusion recorded two protests in the first half of the month regarding this; on December 8th and 15th in Kuala Lumpur. On the 8th, thousands of Muslims marched to the U.S. Embassy from a nearby mosque. Chants of “Hands off Jerusalem” and “Down USA President Trump” were heard during the rally. Similarly, on the 15th, members of Pakatan Harapan marched to the U.S. Embassy to denounce the decision. Like Indonesia, only time will tell how the U.S.’s decision will impact relations between the countries, but based on PM Najib Razak’s statement, there will be no significant impact.
Besides the protests, the first half of the month has mainly seen ‘criminality’ related incidents recorded. Of these, there were 9 murders recorded, all based in Peninsular Malaysia. Of these, three incidents involved foreign nationals. This is a sharp increase compared to the previous month, which saw 5 murders recorded in the whole of November. The first half of the month has also seen several armed robberies, with jewelry stores and money changers the primary targets. However, the most significant incident took place on December 9th when an unidentified individual onboard a motorcycle threw an unidentified explosive device in front of the Fuller Hotel in Alor Setar. The device caused a small explosion which shattered a glass pane, and damaged the roof of the hotel’s porch. An investigation is underway, but there have yet to be arrests made. While there have been terror related arrests made within the country, and terror plots have been foiled, it is not clear who may be behind the explosion. The target, the time of the attack, and the lack of any casualties suggest this is a criminal act perpetrated for other reasons than terrorism.