printable banner

U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

East Asia Overview


Patterns of Global Terrorism
Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism
May 21, 2002
Report
Share

In the wake of the September 11 events, East Asian nations were universal in their condemnation of the attacks, with most providing substantial direct support to the war on terrorism and making significant progress in building indigenous counterterrorism capabilities. Shutting down and apprehending al-Qaida-linked terrorists cells were achievements that drew headlines, but perhaps just as importantly, several states and independent law-enforcement jurisdictions (Hong Kong, for example) strengthened their financial regulatory and legal frameworks to cut off terrorist groups from their resource base and further restrict the activities of terrorists still at large.

The Government of Japan fully committed itself to the global Coalition against terrorism including providing support for the campaign in Afghanistan. Japan was also active in the G-8 Counterterrorism Experts' Group, participating in developing an international counterterrorism strategy to address such concerns as terrorist financing, the drug trade, and mutual legal assistance.

For the first time in history, Australia invoked the ANZUS treaty to provide general military support to the United States. Australia was quick to sign the UN Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Financing, less than seven weeks after September 11. Australia prepared new counterterrorism legislation, implemented UN resolutions against terrorism, and took steps to freeze assets listed in US Executive Order 13224. It has contributed $11.5 million to Afghan relief and has committed troops and equipment to fight in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).

New Zealand sent troops to Afghanistan in support of OEF and fully supports UN resolutions and the US executive order on terrorist financing. New Zealand has new regulations and legislation to implement those resolutions and deployed a C-130 aircraft to Afghanistan for humanitarian relief operations.

The Philippines, under President Macapagal-Arroyo's leadership, has emerged as one of our staunchest Asian allies in the war on terrorism. Macapagal-Arroyo was the first ASEAN leader to voice support for the United States in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. She immediately offered the US broad overflight clearances; use of military bases, including Clark and Subic, for transit, staging, and maintenance of US assets used in Operation Enduring Freedom; enhanced intelligence cooperation; logistics support, including medical personnel, medical supplies, and medicines; and Philippine troops for an international operation, dependent on Philippine congressional approval. Macapagal-Arroyo also spearheaded efforts to forge an ASEAN regional counterterrorism approach.

South Korea has given unconditional support to the US war on terrorism and pledged "all necessary cooperation and assistance as a close US ally in the spirit of the Republic of Korea-United States Mutual Defense Treaty." To that end, South Korea contributed air and sea transport craft and a medical unit in support of the military action in Afghanistan. It also has provided humanitarian relief and reconstruction funds to help rebuild that country. South Korea also has strengthened its domestic legislation and institutions to combat financial support for terrorism, including the creation of a financial intelligence unit. It also has made an important diplomatic contribution as President of the United Nations General Assembly during this critical period.

China, which also has been a victim of terrorism, provided valuable diplomatic support to our efforts against terrorism, both at the United Nations and in the South and Central Asian regions, including financial and material support for the Afghan Interim Authority. Beijing has agreed to all our requests for assistance, and we have established a counterterrorism dialogue at both senior and operational levels.

At year's end, however, much remained to be done. Trafficking in drugs, persons, and weapons, as well as organized crime and official corruption, remain as serious problems and potential avenues of operation for terrorists to exploit.

Southeast Asian terrorist organizations with cells linked to al-Qaida were uncovered late in the year by Singapore and Malaysia. The groups' activities, movements, and connections crossed the region, and plans to conduct major attacks were discovered. Singapore detained 13 Jemaah Islamiah members in December, disrupting a plot to bomb the US and other Embassies, and other targets in Singapore (see case study). Malaysia arrested dozens of terrorist suspects in 2001, and investigations, broadening across the region at the end of the year, revealed the outline of a large international terrorist network. The multinational nature of the Jemaah Islamiah network illustrated for most countries in East Asia the crucial need for effective regional counterterrorism mechanisms. In a move that bodes well for the region's efforts, the ASEAN Regional Forum undertook an extensive counterterrorism agenda.

Several East Asian nations suffered terrorist violence in 2001, mostly related to domestic political disputes. The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in the Philippines repeated the type of kidnappings endemic to the Philippines in 2000. On 27 May, the ASG kidnapped three US citizens and 17 others from a resort in the southern Philippines. Among many others, one US citizen was brutally murdered, and two US citizens and one Filipino remained hostages at year's end. Indonesia, China, and Thailand also suffered a number of bombings throughout the year, many believed by authorities to be the work of Islamic extremists in those countries; few arrests have been made, however.

North Korea, one of the seven state sponsors of terrorism, is discussed in the state sponsorship section of this report.

Burma

Burma issued a letter to the United Nations on 30 November outlining its commitment to counterterrorism. The Government stated its opposition to terrorism and declared government officials would not allow the country to be used as a safehaven or a location for the planning and execution of terrorist acts. The letter also indicated the country had signed the UN Convention for the Suppression of Financing of Terrorism on 12 November, and the Government provided banks and financial institutions with the names of all terrorists and terrorist organizations listed under UN Security Council Resolution 1333. The letter declared that the Government of Burma would cooperate in criminal investigations of terrorism and bring terrorists to justice "in accordance with the laws of the land." Burma had signed six of the 12 counter-terrorism conventions and was considering signing the other six. Drug trafficking and related organized crime are additional challenges in Burma that present terrorists with opportunities to exploit.

China

Chinese officials strongly condemned the September 11 attacks and announced China would strengthen cooperation with the international community in fighting terrorism on the basis of the UN Charter and international law. China voted in support of both UN Security Council resolutions after the attack. It's vote for Resolution 1368 marked the first time it has voted in favor of authorizing the international use of force. China also has taken a constructive approach to terrorism problems in South and Central Asia, publicly supporting the Coalition campaign in Afghanistan and using its influence with Pakistan to urge support for multinational efforts against the Taliban and al-Qaida. China and the United States began a counterterrorism dialogue in late-September, which was followed by further discussions during Ambassador Taylor's trip in December to Beijing. The September 11 attacks added urgency to discussions held in Washington, DC, Beijing, and Hong Kong. The results have been encouraging and concrete; the Government of China has approved establishment of an FBI Legal Attache in Beijing and agreed to create US-China counterterrorism working groups on financing and law enforcement.

President George W. Bush and Chinese President Jiang Zemin hold a joint news conference following their meeting in Beijing, 21 February 2002. (Reuters copyrighted photo)In the wake of the attacks, Chinese authorities undertook a number of measures to improve China's counterterrorism posture and domestic security. These included increasing its vigilance in Xinjiang, western China, where Uighur separatist groups have conducted violent attacks in recent years, to include increasing the readiness levels of its military and police units in the region. China also bolstered Chinese regular army units near the borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan to block terrorists fleeing from Afghanistan and strengthening overall domestic preparedness. At the request of the United States, China conducted a search within Chinese banks for evidence to attack terrorist financing mechanisms.

A number of bombing attacks—some of which were probably separatist-related—occurred in China in 2001. Bomb attacks are among the most common violent crimes in China due to the scarcity of firearms and the wide availability of explosives for construction projects.

China has expressed concern that Islamic extremists operating in and around the Xinjiang-Uighur Autonomous Region who are opposed to Chinese rule received training, equipment, and inspiration from al-Qaida, the Taliban, and other extremists in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Several press reports claimed that Uighurs trained and fought with Islamic groups in the former Soviet Union, including Chechnya.

Two groups in particular are cause for concern: the East Turkestan Islamic Party (ETIP) and the East Turkestan Liberation Organization (or Sharki Turkestan Azatlik Tashkilati, known by the acronym SHAT). ETIP was founded in the early 1980s with the goal of establishing an independent state of Eastern Turkestan and advocates armed struggle. SHAT's members have reportedly been involved in various bomb plots and shootouts.

Uighurs were found fighting with al-Qaida in Afghanistan. We are aware of credible reports that some Uighurs who were trained by al-Qaida have returned to China.

Previous Chinese crackdowns on ethnic Uighurs and others in Xinjiang raised concerns about possible human-rights abuses. The United States has made clear that a counterterrorism campaign cannot serve as a substitute for addressing legitimate social and economic aspirations.

Indonesia

Immediately after the September 11th attacks, President Megawati expressed public support for a global war on terrorism and promised to implement UN counterterrorism resolutions. The Indonesian Government, however, said it opposed unilateral US military action in Afghanistan. The Government has since taken limited action in support of international antiterrorist efforts. It made some effort to bring its legal and regulatory counterterrorism regime up to international standards. Although often slow to acknowledge terrorism problems at home, Indonesia also has taken some steps against terrorist operations within its borders. Police interviewed Abu Bakar Baasyir, leader of the Majelis Mujahadeen Indonesia, about his possible connections to Jemaah Islamiah or Kumpulan Mujahidin Malaysia (KMM). Police arrested a Malaysian in August when he was wounded in an attempt to detonate a bomb at a Jakarta shopping mall. Two Malaysians were arrested in Indonesia thus far in conjunction with the bombing of the Atrium shopping mall. In addition, Indonesia has issued blocking orders on some of the terrorists as required under UN Security Council Resolution 1333, and bank compliance with freezing and reporting requirements is pending. At the end of the year the United States remained concerned that terrorists related to al-Qaida, Jemaah Islamiyah, and KMM were operating in Indonesia.

Radical Indonesian Islamic groups threatened to attack the US Embassy and violently expel US citizens and foreigners from the country in response to the US-led campaign in Afghanistan. A strong Indonesian police presence prevented militant demonstrators from attacking the compound in October. One of the most vocal of the Indonesian groups, Front Pembela Islam (Islamic Defenders Front), had previously threatened US citizens in the country.

Press accounts reported over 30 major bombing incidents throughout the archipelago, including blasts in June and December at the US-owned ExxonMobil facility in Aceh Region. Unidentified gunmen also kidnapped and assassinated several prominent Indonesians during the year, including a Papuan independence activist and a leading Acehnese academic. Officials made little progress in apprehending and prosecuting those responsible for the bombings in 2001, having arrested only five persons. Laskar Jihad, Indonesia's largest radical group, remained a concern at year's end as a continuing source of domestic instability.

Communal violence between Christians and Muslims in the Provinces of Maluku and Central Sulawesi continued in 2001. Several villages were razed in Sulawesi in November and December, leading to a major security response from the Indonesian military.

(Indonesia and Australia signed an Memorandum of Understanding on counterterrorism cooperation in early 2002, preparing the way for concrete actions against the spread of terrorism in Southeast Asia.)

Japan

Japan acted with unprecedented speed in responding to the September terrorist attacks in the United States. Prime Minister Koizumi led an aggressive campaign that resulted in new legislation allowing Japan's Self Defense Forces to provide substantial rear area support for the campaign in Afghanistan. The Government has frozen suspected terrorist assets and maintains a watch list that contains nearly 300 groups and individuals. The Government has signed all 12 terrorism-related international conventions and is moving quickly with legislation to approve the sole treaty Japan has not ratified, the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism.

Laos

The Laotian Government has stated it condemns all forms of terrorism and supports the global war on terrorism. The Bank of Laos has issued orders to freeze terrorist assets and instructed banks to locate and seize such assets. Laos, however, has been slow to ratify international conventions against terrorism. Public and Government commentary on the US-led war on terrorism has been overwhelmingly supportive.

Malaysia

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir condemned the September 11 attacks as unjustified and made a first-ever visit to the US Embassy to sign the condolence book and express solidarity with the United States in the fight against international terrorism. The Malaysian Government cooperated with international law-enforcement and intelligence efforts, made strides in implementing financial counterterrorism measures, aggressively pursued domestic counterterrorism before and after September 11, and increased security surrounding the US Embassy and diplomatic residences. The Government in October expressed strong reservations about US military action in Afghanistan.

Malaysia suffered no incidents of international terrorism in 2001, although Malaysian police authorities made a series of arrests of persons associated with regional Islamic extremist groups with al-Qaida links. Between May and December close to 30 members of the domestic Kumpulan Mujahidin Malaysia (KMM) group and an extremist wing of KMM were arrested for activities deemed threatening to Malaysia's national security. KMM detainees were being held on a wide range of charges, to include planning to wage a jihad, possessing weaponry, carrying out bombings and robberies, murdering a former state assemblyman, and planning attacks on foreigners, including US citizens. Several of the arrested militants reportedly underwent military training in Afghanistan, and several key leaders of the KMM are also deeply involved in Jemaah Islamiah. Jemaah Islamiah is alleged to have ties not only to the KMM, but to Islamic extremist organizations in Indonesia, Singapore, and the Philippines; Malaysian police also have been investigating whether Jemaah Islamiah has connections to September 11 terrorist suspect Zacharias Moussaoui.

Nineteen members of the Malaysian Islamist sect al-Ma'unah, who were detained in July 2000 following the group's raid on two military armories in northern Malaysia, were found guilty of treason in their bid to overthrow the Government and establish an Islamic state. Sixteen members received life sentences while the remaining three were sentenced to death. Ten other members had pleaded guilty earlier to a reduced charge of preparing to wage war against the king and were sentenced to 10 years in prison, although the sentences of two were reduced to seven years on appeal. An additional 15 al-Ma'unah members remained in detention under the Internal Security Act.

Philippines

Philippine President Macapagal-Arroyo has been Southeast Asia's staunchest supporter of the international counterterrorism effort, offering medical assistance for Coalition forces, blanket overflight clearance, and landing rights for US aircraft involved in Operation Enduring Freedom. After marathon sessions, the Philippine Congress passed the Anti-Money-laundering Act of 2001 on 29 September. This legislation overcame vocal opposition and passed quickly as the Philippine Congress took steps to support the international effort to freeze terrorist assets throughout the world. In addition, the Philippine military, with US training and assistance, in October intensified its offensive against the terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG)—which has been involved in high-profile kidnappings for many years.

Photo 1: Terrorist points gun at young Filipino girl. She and other hostages are shown being used by terrorists as human shields.  Hostages were seized  in Zamboanga in late November 2001. (Reuters copyrighted photo)

Small radical groups in the Philippines continued attacks against foreign and domestic targets in 2001. The ASG, designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the US Government in 1997 and redesignated in 1999 and 2001, kidnapped three US citizens and 17 Filipinos in May from a resort on Palawan Island in the southern Philippines. Of the original 20 hostages kidnapped, 15 escaped or were ransomed; three hostages (including Guillermo Sobero, a US citizen) were murdered; and two US citizens remained captive at year's end. The "Pentagon Gang" kidnap-for-ransom group, which is responsible for the kidnap and/or murder of Chinese, Italian, and Filipino nationals in 2001, was added to the US Terrorism Exclusion List (TEL) in December.

Peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People's Army (CPP/NPA) began in April but broke down in June after the NPA, the military wing of the CPP, claimed responsibility for the assassination on 12 June of a Philippine congressman from Cagayan. The Alex Boncayao Brigade (ABB)—a breakaway CPP/NPA faction—engaged in intermittent fighting with Philippine security forces during the year.

Distinguishing between political and criminal motivation for many of the terrorist-related activities in the Philippines continued to be problematic, most notably in the numerous cases of kidnapping for ransom in the southern Philippines. Both Islamist separatists and Communist insurgents sought to extort funds from businesses in their operating areas, occasionally conducting reprisal operations if money was not paid.

 

 Singapore: A Terrorist Plot Thwarted

The USS Kitty Hawk sailed past Singapore's business district in May 2000.  The Singapore Government says suspected Islamic extremists planned to attack several US naval vessels moored off the coast of Singapore. (Reuters copyrighted photo)The plots were complex; the means well contrived. The US Embassy, the US Navy, and other facilities were the targets of planned terrorist attacks that were discovered—and quickly thwarted—by Singapore authorities.

An island of 4 million inhabitants, including 17,000 US citizens, Singapore is known as a nation of laws. "Singapore is so small, no matter how small you are in size, eventually people do talk about it, and we get information," said Home Minister Wong Kan Seng. "So it happened that we got specific information last year."

Following the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the Singapore Government began to investigate a possible terrorist cell within its borders. In December, Singapore authorities detained 15 suspects—two were subsequently released—all members of the clandestine Jemaah Islamiyah or "Islamic Group." The suspects are being held in custody under the Internal Security Act, which allows for a two-year detention without trial. Decisions on a trial will be made when the investigation is complete.

The terrorists had photographed the Embassy several times. Procurement had begun on 21 tons of explosive material, enough to make a series of devastating truck bombs. Four tons of bombmaking chemicals to be used in the plot remained at large at the time this was written. (Two tons had been used to vicious effect in the Oklahoma City bombings; the terrorists wanted enough to level several buildings in Singapore.) The main target was to be the US Embassy. Surveillance was also conducted against allied embassies and US companies.

The US Embassy in Singapore played a key role in the disruption of the terrorist network. The Singapore Government contacted the US Embassy on 14 December to warn that the Embassy was the target of a planned terrorist attack, enabling Embassy personnel to take preventative measures. US Ambassador to Singapore Frank Lavin explained, "For 10 days, the US Embassy task force knew we were the target of a massive terrorist attack, but no one took unscheduled leave or even missed a day." The operational security of the Embassy was maintained, despite the knowledge that the terrorists were monitoring the Embassy. The subsequent arrests of the terrorist suspects can be partially attributed to the dedication of the US Embassy personnel who conducted themselves with the utmost professionalism, and who maintained confidentiality, despite knowing they were being targeted by terrorists.

While the Singapore authorities were tracking and arresting the terrorist plotters, an important discovery was made thousands of miles away that shed light on how the attacks were to be planned and staged. Incriminating videotape was found in the rubble of an al-Qaida leader's home in Afghanistan that showed surveillance footage of the specific targets, including the subway station used by US military personnel in Singapore. Handwritten notes in Arabic accompanied the tape and provided further details of what was to have been a cold-blooded terrorist strike; Singaporeans watching the tape on television were shocked to hear a locally accented voice calmly commenting on how the bombs might be best planted to do maximum damage to passers-by.

According to the Singapore Government, the Jemaah Islamiyah had cells in Malaysia and Indonesia and was led by Malaysian permanent resident Hambali Nurjaman Riduan, an Indonesian national and successor to the group's former leader, who had been arrested by Malaysian authorities in June 2001.

Malaysia also arrested more than two dozen suspected terrorists in late 2001 and early 2002. Indonesian authorities questioned Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, a suspected leader of terrorist cells in Malaysia who admitted to an association with Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi, who was arrested in the Philippines in January 2002. The Singapore surveillance videotape with handwritten notes found in Afghanistan indicated a clear link between the suspected terrorists in custody and al-Qaida.

"The new finding shows a very direct link between the Jemaah Islamiyah group detained here and the al-Qaida leaders in Afghanistan," said Mr. Wong Kan Seng, the Minister for Home Affairs.

Furthermore, according to the Singapore Government, eight of the 13 arrested individuals trained in al-Qaida camps in Afghanistan. The camps provided instruction specifically on the use of AK-47s and mortars, along with military tactics. There is also evidence that the terrorists began exploring targets in Singapore in 1997.

Singaporean security officials remain on alert, as their terrorism investigation continues. According to US Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, the Singapore Government "acted with dispatch" and dealt with the terrorist plot in an extremely effective manner.

As a result of the arrests in Singapore, the Philippines Government discovered and prevented an additional terrorist plot in that country which resulted in the arrest of several suspected terrorists with links to those detained in Singapore. Philippines officials also seized more than a ton of TNT and explosive boosters from al-Ghozi, who was arrested shortly before he was to fly to Bangkok, Thailand. The TNT was believed to be part of the group's arsenal of bombing materials.

The discovery of the terrorist plot against US and other foreign interests in Singapore and the arrest of suspects with ties to other countries underscores the need for global cooperation in the war against terror. It demonstrates the value of timely and accurate intelligence and shows how the discovery of a terrorist plot in one country can lead authorities to an entire matrix of terrorist cells in another when their governments work together. Further cooperation between governments is crucial in apprehending terrorists who are still at large.

Singapore's Permanent Representative to the United Nations spoke of the global coalition against terrorism when he addressed the General Assembly in October:

"We realize that it will be a long and uphill struggle to make the world safer from terrorism. This is a deep-rooted problem that will not go away easily. The terrorists have built up a sophisticated and complex global network, and other societies too are at risk. Countering terrorism must therefore be a global endeavor. "

Singapore

Singapore Prime Minister Goh strongly condemned the September 11 attacks on New York City and Washington, unequivocally affirming support for US antiterrorism efforts. Singapore was supportive of war efforts in Afghanistan and contributed funds and material to Afghanistan for humanitarian relief. More broadly, the Government quickly passed omnibus legislation intended to enable it to comply with mandatory UN Security Council Resolutions and was instrumental in uncovering and disrupting international terrorists operating in Southeast Asia.

Singapore did not experience any incidents of domestic or international terrorism in 2001, but police officials in December disrupted an al-Qaida-linked extremist organization called Jemaah Islamiyah whose members were plotting to attack US, British, Australian, and Israeli interests in Singapore. Thirteen individuals were detained, and investigations were continuing at the end of 2001 (for a detailed account of the Jemaah Islamiyah arrests, see case study).

As a regional transportation, shipping, and financial hub, Singapore plays a crucial role in international efforts against terrorism. Efforts were continuing at year's end to make improvements to security in all of these areas, including, in particular, the collection of detailed data on all cargoes passing through Singapore's port.

Taiwan

Taiwan President Chen committed publicly on several occasions, including soon after the September 11 attacks, that Taiwan would "fully support the spirit and determination of the antiterrorist campaign, as well as any effective, substantive measures that may be adopted." Taiwan announced that it would fully abide by the 12 UN counterterrorism conventions, even though it is not a member of the United Nations. Taiwan strengthened laws on money laundering and criminal-case-procedure law in the aftermath of September 11.

Thailand

Prime Minister Thaksin condemned the September 11 terrorist attacks and said his country would stand by the United States in the international Coalition to combat terrorism. The Government pledged cooperation on counterterrorism between US and Thai agencies, committed to signing all the UN counterterrorism conventions, and offered to participate in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. Thailand took several concrete actions in support of the war on terrorism. Thai financial authorities began investigating financial transactions covered under UN resolutions to freeze al-Qaida and Taliban assets. In an effort to prevent terrorism and crime, immigration officials in December announced initiatives to expand the list of countries whose citizens are required to obtain visas before they arrive in Thailand. Thailand also offered to dispatch one construction battalion and five medical teams to serve in UN-mandated operations in Afghanistan. In Thailand, police stepped up security around US and Western-owned buildings immediately following the September 11 attacks.

Thai authorities suspect Muslim organized crime groups from the predominately Muslim provinces in southern Thailand were responsible for several small-scale attacks in 2001, including three bombings in early April that killed a child and wounded dozens of persons, an unexploded truck bomb that was found next to a hotel in southern Thailand in November, and, in December, a series of coordinated attacks on police checkpoints in southern Thailand that killed five police officers and a defense volunteer.

On 19 June, authorities averted an attempted bombing at the Vietnamese Embassy in Bangkok when they found and disarmed two explosive devices that had failed to detonate. Three ethnic Vietnamese males were taken into custody. One was charged with illegal possession of explosives and conspiracy to cause an explosion in connection with the incident. The others were released after police determined there was insufficient evidence to link them to the crime.

In central Bangkok in early December, a rocket-propelled grenade was fired at a multistory building housing a ticketing office of the Israeli airline El Al, although police doubted the Israeli carrier was the intended target. There were no casualties.



Back to Top
Sign-in

Do you already have an account on one of these sites? Click the logo to sign in and create your own customized State Department page. Want to learn more? Check out our FAQ!

OpenID is a service that allows you to sign in to many different websites using a single identity. Find out more about OpenID and how to get an OpenID-enabled account.