The Complex Threat of Islamist Radicalism Around the World

The Complex Threat of Islamist Radicalism Around the World
A daughter of Christian Medves kisses her father’s coffin during a ceremony for three victims of an extremist gun rampage in March 2018 in Trebes, southern France, March 29, 2018 (AP photo by Fred Lancelot).

Islamist radicalism is a threat that spans the globe, from tropical islands in the Indian Ocean to major European cities. The experiences of various countries and regions in fighting extremism illustrate the need for solutions well-tailored to local conditions. Find out more when you subscribe to World Politics Review (WPR).

In late 2014, Mauritian intelligence services discovered that a handful of Mauritian Muslims had traveled to Syria and Iraq to fight for the self-proclaimed Islamic State. Many of those jihadi recruits were swayed and enabled by the Islamist radicalism of a small yet troubling network of ideologues in the tropical island nation, which is located in the Indian Ocean some 1,200 miles east of mainland Africa. Intelligence gathered by Mauritian field officers identified one individual in particular, a radical preacher named Javed Meetoo, as the network’s leader.

Since he emerged on their radar, Mauritian officials have closely followed Meetoo’s efforts to build his movement. In October 2015, Meetoo created his own educational society, Abu Faaris, which quickly established links with two Islamist social groups, Zam Zam and Al Huda Wan Noor society, both of which sympathize with Islamic State ideology. Since then, Meetoo’s public addresses promoting Shariah law have become more prominent and daring.

Meetoo’s group has insignificant support among the Mauritian population. Nonetheless, more signs are emerging that these radicalization efforts are bearing fruit, particularly among young people, among Mauritian Muslims, and among those swayed by financial or other incentives.

To learn more about the growing appeal of Islamist radicalism among young Mauritian Muslims, read Trouble in Paradise: Mauritius Tries to Ward Off Islamist Radicalization for FREE with your subscription to World Politics Review.

Islamist Radicalism Returns to Southeast Asia

While radicalization in Mauritius is mainly the product of a homegrown network founded by a single individual, the threat in Southeast Asia has its roots in the rise of the Islamic State in the Middle East. After a steady decline in Islamist radicalism in Southeast Asia over the past decade, during which the region shed its post-9/11 image as a possible second front for al-Qaida, the rise of the self-declared Islamic State (IS) has some governments fearing a new threat. In response, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore in particular are acting individually, bilaterally and regionally to stem recruitment, radicalization and the flow of foreign fighters.

Over 500 young Southeast Asians are returning home after fighting for IS. Given that over 40 percent of the population of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is Muslim, countries with sizable Muslim populations are worried that some of their citizens will grow to sympathize with IS and perhaps carry out attacks at home.

To learn more about the return of the threat of Islamist radicalism to Southeast Asia, read Islamic State Returnees Reawaken Extremist Threat for Southeast Asia for FREE with your subscription to World Politics Review.


The Challenge of Islamic State Returnees in Europe

Europe, too, has seen a wave of former Islamic State fighters coming back to the continent. Since 2012, around 5,000 Europeans have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join various militant groups, primarily the Islamic State. Of those, around 1,500 are now back in Europe, most having returned between 2013 and 2015. The challenge posed by this population is especially acute for Belgium. The country has a higher per capita rate of citizens joining up with foreign terrorist organizations than any other in Europe, and about 30 percent of them have come back. Unsure of how to process these returnees, Belgian officials ultimately decided the best thing to do was to put them behind bars. But that response, which has been replicated in hundreds of cases, has drawn criticism. Perhaps the most worrisome drawback of the decision to incarcerate so many former Islamic State members was that it gave them the potential to radicalize other inmates.

Belgium is on the front lines of dealing with Islamic State fighters returning to Europe today. To learn more about how the country is handling this threat, read Europe’s Prisons, Already Hotbeds of Radicalization, Are Filling Up With ISIS Recruits for FREE with your subscription to World Politics Review.

Senegal’s Strategy in Fighting the Islamic State in Africa

In West Africa, Islamist radicalism was once confined to slivers of territory in the most marginalized areas of the region, but extremist groups are increasingly expanding their operational footprint there. Whether it is Boko Haram, which has rebranded itself as the self-proclaimed Islamic State’s West African affiliate, or the myriad al-Qaida offshoots that occupied northern Mali following a coup in 2012, insurgent operations are no longer confined by these groups’ countries of origin. Yet one West African country has so far been spared this Islamist blowback, despite being a key Western security partner and actively involved in regional counterterrorism initiatives: Senegal.

To learn more about one country’s defenses against Islamist radicalism, read How Has Senegal Shielded Itself From West Africa’s Islamist Extremists? for FREE with your subscription to World Politics Review.


Editor's Note: This article was first published in August 2018 and is regularly updated.