Good morning, everyone. I would like to thank the Government of Indonesia and specifically the Badan Nasional Penanggulangan Terorisme or BNPT for co-convening this second workshop along with the United Nations Office of Counterterrorism (UNOCT) to build upon the first workshop we held in 2019, and thanks also everyone who worked to organize and plan this event. We are opening a series of three ASEAN workshops and meetings this week, which has proven to be a very efficient and productive model for substantive cooperation on improving our collective security.
We have come a long way in our understanding of how to effectively prevent and counter terrorism and violent extremism, although many challenges still lie ahead. The United States and ASEAN member states have a strong partnership in our fight against radicalization and recruitment. As the terrorist and violent extremist landscape evolves so too must our approach. We must remain nimble to address these shifting challenges, while continuing to respect human rights, freedom of expression, and the rule of law.
Today, I would like to talk about how the United States’ global strategy for countering terrorism supports preventing and countering violent extremism – or P/CVE – in Southeast Asia.
The terrorist threat is more complex than ever before. There are more than 120 Islamist terrorist groups operating around the world, including ISIS, a resurgent al-Qa’ida, and their branches and affiliates, some in Southeast Asia.
Iran, the foremost state sponsor of terrorism, continues to use terrorism as a foreign policy tool, and seeks to exert influence around the world, including in Southeast Asia.
At the same time, ISIS, al-Qa’ida, and their affiliates have become more dispersed and clandestine, using online safe havens to inspire attacks by distant followers. They have made themselves less susceptible to conventional military or law enforcement action.
However, as you saw with the successful U.S. operation that killed Ayman al-Zawihiri, the leader of al Qa’ida, we demonstrated our commitment to continue to protect our country and act against terrorist threats emanating from Afghanistan and we will continue to do so in the face of any future threats.
We were able to do so in this instance — and will be positioned to do so going forward — as a result of the skill and professionalism of our intelligence and counterterrorism community colleagues, as well as our international partners. As Secretary Blinken stated “The world is a safer place following the death of Zawahiri, and the United States will continue to act resolutely against those who would threaten our country, our people, or our allies and partners.”
As the threat evolves, so must our strategy to prevent and counter it. Preventing terrorist radicalization and recruitment is key. Prevention is a pillar of the National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism, which not only focuses on terrorism and violent extremism such as REMVE within the United States, but also on transnational connections that link these extremists who seek to do us harm.
We continue to work internationally with our partners to contribute to a whole-of-society counterterrorism approach that addresses all forms of terrorism and violent extremism, as well as the lifecycle of radicalization to violence. ASEAN Member States are essential to this effort in developing and implementing national strategies alongside your regional P/CVE strategy.
Prevention remains the key to help proactively ensure that people do not radicalize, mobilize, recruit, or inspire others to commit acts of terrorism. Prevention is distinct from – and complementary to –military action, law enforcement, prosecution, and detention, and requires collaborative work by multiple stakeholders, including community and religious leaders, civil society, private sector technology companies, academics, journalists, and others.
For example, we are working with families, mental health professionals, and social workers to recognize the early signs of radicalization and establish “off ramps” through providing social service support and other resources.
Local governments and community institutions play critical roles in these efforts since they have deep ties to the communities they serve and are often best positioned to recognized and address the drivers of radicalization to violence.
This is why we updated and released in 2021 our “U.S. Violent Extremist Mobilization Indicators” in hard copy and online, which addresses all forms of terrorism and violent extremism, for use by communities and individuals within the United States and globally.
We also have seen the implementation of effective programming designed to build resiliency in rural communities and prevent terrorist activity by improving relationships between local populations and the security forces protecting them. This includes the communication and crisis response plans and community engagement through sports and other activities.
For example, we have been working with “Football for Peace,” an international NGO that uses sports as a soft power tool to increase tolerance of others, reduce instances of hate and violence, and build resilient communities. The NGO leverages its global sports efforts to build tolerance among vulnerable youth, while also providing them with mentorship and leadership skills they need to build resilience to violent extremism. We’re hoping to launch programs that will focus on countering REMVE in the United States, building on the global sports programs.
In another example, in the southern Philippines, we partner with NGOs to promote deradicalization through education, and hold community dialogues with local law enforcement to build resilience to terrorist radicalization.
Let me also highlight the great work that another partner organization, The Strong Cities Network, is doing.
This network of more than 150 cities supports local governments finding local solutions to address the drivers of terrorist radicalization and recruitment in their communities.
This network has a diverse set of cities and states across the globe, from the United States, to Australia, to Kenya, and to India to name a few. U.S. cities include Anaheim, Atlanta, Chattanooga, Denver, Los Angeles, Louisville, New York, and San Diego. We have great city partners, such as Surabaya and Surakarta in Indonesia, and Zamboanga in the Philippines. Of course, we always encourage more cities from Southeast Asia to join.
Another important part of CVE includes empowering local voices to provide an alternative to the false information and disinformation propagated by terrorist recruiters and to counter online terrorist messaging campaigns, many of which originate in distant countries.
Let me also stress that prevention includes providing youth and everyone in our nations with education that promotes media and digital literacy skills, a topic I know will be discussed by experts at this workshop — including critical thinking skills — to recognize and reject terrorist or violent extremist propaganda – both online and offline. Working with and through schools and youth groups as well as through public services for everyone, this is a critical part of the generational nature of this struggle.
CVE is also about rehabilitating former terrorists and successfully re-integrating them into their communities.
More and more governments are improving existing capabilities to prosecute, rehabilitate, and ultimately reintegrate returning FTFs. Thousands of FTFs and their families remain in partner custody in Syria. Without such efforts, FTFs one day may inspire new followers and their children may become a new generation of terrorists.
Working with regional and international organizations, including the United Nations and ASEAN, as you know from our first workshop in 2019, we continue to work to develop and implement rights-respecting, comprehensive CVE “national action plans” to guide our government policies and programming.
As an ASEAN Dialogue Partner, we have been supporting the Senior Officials Meeting on Transnational Crime (SOMTC) Working Group on Counter Terrorism (WG-CT) and other efforts. I understand that many of you will also join the Second Bali Work Plan Multi Sectoral Task Force Meeting and the Second ASEAN Partners Meeting for the Implementation of the Bali Work Plan after this two-day workshop.
We should also note the good work of the Global Counterterrorism Forum, or GCTF, which conducts training and capacity building workshops and develops non-binding good practices on CVE through the CVE Working Group, co-led by Australia and Indonesia.
The United States has supported several CVE efforts through the GCTF, including good practice documents addressing the challenge of returning families of foreign terrorist fighters as well as homegrown terrorism.
Most recently, we have been supporting work through the GCTF to finalize a REMVE toolkit to be presented at the GCTF Coordinating Committee in September.
These resources among the many other GCTF good practices on CVE, serve as useful tools when creating and implementing CVE programs and policies. We encourage you to consider these non-binding documents as part of your prevention efforts.
We have also worked to implement these good practices with partners such as the CVE Center Hedayah, whose great research and programs on prevention, such as undermining and countering terrorist narratives, have focused on Southeast Asia.
We also partner with the Global Community Engagement & Resilience Fund, or GCERF, which many of you know is the world’s only global fund working hyper-locally to prevent and counter violent extremism. GCERF is working with 32 local partners and implementing over 100 local initiatives across the Philippines.
And here in Indonesia, I would like to cite the important role played by our friends in Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah in preventing and countering radicalization to violence. Both movements have supported innovative community engagement initiatives.
We are always looking to take stock of our efforts and to expand our partnerships in unique, creative, and successful ways. This workshop is one example, as we build upon the first workshop to take stock of ASEAN members’ efforts on P/CVE and identify challenges we can perhaps address through our collaboration.
Thank you again for the opportunity to share the U.S. perspective on preventing and countering terrorist and violent extremist threats, and to join you in collaborative efforts to address them. I look forward to hearing your updates and to productive deliberations.