SINGAPORE — The latest propaganda video by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis) showing child fighters from Malaysia and Indonesia firing guns, burning their passports and denouncing their citizenships — while a wanted terrorist delivered a provocative message for regional governments — has raised concerns among terror experts.
Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen yesterday also weighed in on the “disturbing” 16-minute clip, calling it a reminder that “this fight against terrorism is global and above all, about winning hearts and minds of the younger generation”.
Noting that the video showed footage of young children “excelling in unarmed combat, drills with rifles and knives”, Dr Ng wrote on Facebook: “Many of them should be in school getting a proper education to ensure a bright future. Instead they spend their days in training camps, indoctrinated to hate their fellow countrymen in Malaysia and Indonesia, burn their passports as a sign of their allegiance to terror groups like Isis, and drilled to kill innocent lives.”
Dr Ng described the clip — which named Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand as countries which “created trouble” and “damaged” Islamic beliefs — as “the first Isis video that targets South-east Asia explicitly”. “But unfortunately, I expect more to come,” he said.
The video, titled The Generation of Epic Battles, was released by Isis last week. Narrated in Arabic with subtitles in Bahasa Indonesia, it showed crowds of children clad in combat uniform and headscarves who were firing weapons and undergoing drills. They were also told to wrestle with one another. Individual children pledged to wage jihad against those who have “changed the laws of God”.
Mr Zainuri Kamaruddin, who leads the Malay-speaking Isis arm Katibah Nusantara and is wanted by the Malaysian authorities, was also featured in the video. He led the child fighters in tossing their passports into a bonfire.
Speaking in Malay, he said the “cubs of the caliphate” were preparing themselves to “become the fighters of tomorrow”. He added: “To all the governments of Indonesia and Malaysia, we are not your citizens and we rid ourselves of your passport. But know that we will come back with the strengths of a mighty force that you cannot fathom that you cannot defeat. We will now burn these passports as symbol of our liberation.”
In March last year, Isis also relesed a video titled Education in the Shadow of the Caliphate, which featured children from South-east Asia in military garb studying, praying, eating and undergoing weaponry training.
The latest video was further evidence that the Isis threat is “real and present” in the region, experts said.
Ms Nur Diyanah Anwar, a research analyst at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies’ (RSIS) Centre of Excellence for National Security, noted the recent surge of propaganda materials from Isis that were translated into regional languages such as Malay and Bahasa Indonesia.
“It is clear that Isis is placing great focus on South-east Asia,” she said.
Videos centered on children are a timely reminder that Isis runs a “multigenerational campaign” that targets everyone in society, including children and women, said Professor Rohan Gunaratna, who heads the RSIS International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research.
National University of Singapore political scientist Bilveer Singh said the act of burning passports was symbolic of Isis followers severing ties with their home countries. “(The scene) shows to the world that Isis supporters were defiantly abandoning their home state for the Islamic State. It is a public act of disavowal,” he said.
He added: “We cannot (for) any longer compartmentalise our response to Isis. It has become everybody’s business and hence, all of us should be involved in building national resilience.”