JAKARTA: Security threats posed by ex-Daesh fighters have increased following a Turkish-led invasion of northern Syria, experts in Indonesia have told Arab News, pointing to a possible regrouping of existing networks and jeopardizing counter-terrorism efforts.
US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of troops from the Syrian border earlier this month cleared the way for Turkey to attack Kurdish forces which had previously fought in a coalition with the US against Daesh in northeastern Syria since 2014.
The Turkish offensive, which started on Oct. 9, has prompted fears of ex-Daesh fighters escaping Kurdish detention.
Hundreds of Indonesian militants had reportedly ventured into Syria in recent years to join Daesh, before the group’s once-sprawling self-declared caliphate collapsed.
A spokesman for the State Intelligence Agency, Wawan Hari Purwanto, told Arab News it was unclear how many Indonesians had escaped Syria but none of them had returned.
But prisoners were likely to try and return, according to terrorism expert Al Chaidar from the University of Indonesia. He said they may be attempting to link up with local groups of Daesh-inspired militants such as Jemaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD).
Indonesia in recent years has been hit by attacks linked to JAD, including deadly suicide bombings last year in the country’s second-biggest city Surabaya.
“This will increasingly complicate the government’s handling of terrorist groups that have long been present in Indonesia,” he told Arab News. “There is the potential for increased terrorist threats at home.”
The world’s biggest Muslim-majority country has scrambled to tighten its anti-terrorism laws, leading to a sustained crackdown that netted hundreds of Daesh-inspired militants nationwide.
Those held in Syrian detention camps may be seeking to return with the help of smugglers, said the International Association of Counterterrorism and Security Professionals’ director for Indonesia, Rakyan Adibrata.
“Another possible way is to move to other countries and pretend to be human trafficking victims and then requesting travel documents in lieu of passport at Indonesian embassies in countries outside Syria,” he told Arab News, adding that prisoners may try to flee to Egypt, Pakistan, and other countries with porous borders.
Their return to Indonesia may also pose dangers that were not immediately related to the radical and violent Daesh ideology they had espoused. Adibrata described them as “not only ISIS (Daesh) followers, but also war survivors,” many of whom were possibly suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“They always feel they are in the enemy’s area,” Adibrata said, referring to the symptoms of PTSD, as he warned that in the context of Daesh-exposed fighters and their families “the impact will be way more serious.”