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Southeast Asia fears militant fallout as Mideast conflict widens

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Southeast Asia fears militant fallout as Mideast conflict widens | Thaiger

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Southeast Asia fears militant fallout as Mideast conflict widens
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: Four gun-wielding rebel fighters sit relaxing on a wall, their faces concealed by scarves and ski masks. All are Indonesians who came to Syria to join the Islamist insurgency, the cameraman says, speaking Indonesian peppered with Arabic phrases.

He pans around and introduces them as a former soldier, a businessman, and a college student, before settling on a boy in his early teens leaning on his AK-47 assault rifle.

“Brothers in Indonesia, don’t be afraid, because fear is a temptation from Satan,” says one of the fighters in the YouTube video, which has since been removed from the Islamist website.

As Sunni Islamist rebels surge from Syria into Iraq, security officials in Southeast Asia and Australia worry the conflict is radicalising a new generation of militants, who are being influenced to an unprecedented degree by social media.

In the 1990s, several hundred Indonesian, Malaysian and Philippine Muslims trained with al Qaeda in Afghanistan and brought their skills and ideology home, inspiring attacks such as the 2002 Bali nightclub bombing that killed 202 people.

At least 30 Malaysians and 56 Indonesians are estimated by security officials to have gone to fight in Syria, although security analysts say the true number is likely higher.

Australia’s government estimates around 150 Australians have gone to the Middle East to join the fighting in Syria and Iraq, with some taking leadership roles.

Many, including those in the video, are believed to have joined the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as ISIS, whose hard-line Islamist rebels have led a Sunni Muslim charge across western and northern Iraq, including the capture of border crossings and the key city of Mosul.

“It’s a growing concern,” Malaysian Deputy Home Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar told Reuters.

“Some Malaysians who may have been in contact with some of these people get motivated to participate. We have been arresting a lot of militants within the country.”

Malaysian police have arrested at least 16 suspected militants since April who they said were believed to have ties to ISIL and some of whom trained in jungle areas in northern Malaysia. Malaysian media, citing an ISIL website, reported that a Malaysian named Ahmad Tarmimi carried out a suicide bombing in Iraq in May, although Reuters was unable to verify the incident.

Malaysia is investigating a report by Syria’s permanent representative to the United Nations that 15 Malaysians fighting for ISIL had been killed, its Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said this week she had cancelled a “substantial number” of passports on security grounds in recent months and was considering further measures.

“There is a real danger that these extremists will come back home as trained terrorists and pose a threat to our security,” Bishop told the Australian parliament on Monday.

Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Morocco and Russia are by far the largest contributors of the estimated 11,000 foreign fighters in Syria, according to strategic security firm The Soufan Group.

Official estimates of 236 militants from Australia, Malaysia and Indonesia would account for nearly 9 percent of the foreign fighters from countries excluding those four.

THE FINAL BATTLE

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, has long been the epicentre of Islamist militancy in east Asia, breeding groups such as Jemaah Islamiah (JI) that carried out the 2002 Bali bombing and other attacks on Western targets.

The Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) said in a report in January the Syrian crisis had inspired Indonesian extremists to an unprecedented extent, partly due to teachings that “the final battle” would take place in the greater Syrian region.

“We can see that ISIS is getting better, it’s growing and it’s widening its reach and influence over cities in Iraq – Mosul, Tikrit and then Ramadi. Soon, God willing, even Baghdad will fall,” said M. Fachry, the chief editor of al-mustaqbal.net, an Indonesian militant website.

Abu Bakar Bashir, the spiritual father of JI who has since split with the group, and Aman Abdurrahman, an influential extremist scholar, have urged their followers to support ISIL in recent months. Several pro-ISIL rallies have drawn large crowds in Indonesia, where support and recruitment for foreign militant groups remains legal.

The concern among security officials is that fighters in Syria and Iraq could breathe new life into the radical movement in Indonesia, where militant groups have been dispersed and weakened in recent years by security crackdowns.

“That’s why we’re focussing on it. Because it will be a massive problem when they come back to Indonesia, everyone agrees on that,” said an Indonesian security official, who is briefed on anti-terrorism efforts but declined to be identified.

Unlike in the 1990s, social media now plays an influential role, with Facebook, YouTube and Twitter widely used by militants to transmit their message and lionise “martyrs”.

“It’s the development of social media that has caused ISIS’s popularity to rise. ISIS has been using social media, especially Twitter, to massively increase their growth,” said al-mustaqbal.net’s M. Fachry.

Mohd Lotfi Ariffin, a Malaysian who says he is fighting in Syria, regularly posts pictures and videos of himself and other militants to his nearly 19,000 Facebook followers.

One of those followers, 21-year-old Malaysian Mohammad Fadhlan Shahidi, was inspired to join him in Syria, according to a video posted on his Facebook page on May 15 showing him side-by-side with Lotfi and another Malaysian fighter.

“At the beginning, I got in touch with Ustaz (teacher) Lutfi,” Fadhlan says. “The Ustaz told me how much I would need for the trip.”

Police in Malaysia and Indonesia face a struggle to keep track of militant activity and secure convictions, analysts say, because of the threat’s more diffuse nature and due to political changes in both countries that have undermined their reach.

The governments of both countries have been accused of sometimes fanning Islamist extremism for political gain. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak was reported as telling members of his ruling party on Monday that they should be inspired by ISIL’s bravery and against-the-odds victories.

Indonesia’s security establishment no longer has the tight control over society that prevailed under late President Suharto up to the 1990s, said Yohanes Sulaiman, a lecturer at the Indonesian National Defence University.

“The problem we have is the chain of command of the government. The military is no longer the all-powerful entity it was when it was able to get the names of everybody,” he said.

Malaysian officials say they have been hobbled by the government’s repeal in 2012 of the Internal Security Act, which allowed indefinite detention of suspects.

“The police especially think we are powerless to handle it like we did it before,” said Malaysia’s Wan Junaidi.

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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World

India sees record Covid-19 infections, oxygen shortages

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India sees record Covid-19 infections, oxygen shortages | Thaiger
PHOTO: India's Covid-19 infections spread while oxygen supplies dwindle.

India is experiencing record infections and deaths due to Covid-19 and is now running dangerously low on oxygen supplies. The countries second wave of the virus includes a dangerous virus variant that is spreading quickly and has infected 3.5 million people just this month. In the last 24 hours, 295,000 new infections occurred with just over 2,000 deaths. Prime minister Narendra Modi said that India was in for a big fight and that the second wave of Covid-19 came like a storm.

India had done relatively well during the first wave of the coronavirus for a country dense with 1.3 billion inhabitants. In the last few weeks though people have let their guard down with millions attending religious festivals cricket matches huge weddings, and political rallies around the country. This coinciding with delays and even stopping of production for Covid-19 vaccines and medication along with a lack of oxygen being generated in India is leading to new levels of crisis.

With oxygen supplies dwindling throughout India, relatives of Covid-19 patients are buying black-market oxygen supplies for hyper-inflated prices. Some hospitals are said to be down to their last few hours of oxygen supplies. The health minister of New Delhi is pleading with the government to focus on the oxygen supply chain in India before it devolves into a serious crisis.

Mumbai is the centre of this most recent surge and oxygen shortages there are no better. One doctor said in the event of an oxygen shortage they would usually just relocate patients to another hospital, but now no hospital has the needed surplus. The prime minister said that the government, federal and local, along with private enterprise are working to increase oxygen supplies in India.

New Delhi is in the middle of a week-long lockdown and several other Indian States are facing shut down this weekend. Several countries are cancelling flights or moving India to advisory lists, urging their citizens not to travel there. The United Kingdom and the United States have both flagged India as unsafe to travel, while New Zealand and Hong Kong have completely banned flights.

Vaccination has been hit or miss in India, with early criticism for exporting jobs produced there while so few had been administered locally. Now India has stopped exporting AstraZeneca vaccines, and more than 130 million jabs have been given though supplies have still been limited. Data is expected in the next few weeks about the effect of the Indian Covid-19 variant. As of now, India is second to only the US in total cases with 15.6 million infections and over 180,000 deaths.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Thailand launches Covid-19 vaccine passport for international travel

Maya Taylor

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Thailand launches Covid-19 vaccine passport for international travel | Thaiger
PHOTO: Marco Verch / Flickr

The Thai government has confirmed it is adopting a vaccine passport scheme, to provide vaccinated residents with proof of Covid-19 inoculation. The vaccine passport will be an official document which can be used by vaccinated people travelling abroad. Details of the scheme have now been published in the Royal Gazette, making it official.

The Bangkok Post reports that the Royal Gazette has also published the format of the vaccine passport, which has been approved by Opas Karnkawinpong from the Department of Disease Control. The cover contains text in English and Thai, which bears the department’s name and that of the Public Health Ministry. It carries the national emblem of Thailand, the garuda, and the wording, “Covid-19 Certificate of Vaccination”.

The vaccine passport also contains the owner’s name, as well as his or her national identification or passport number, and confirmation that the holder is vaccinated against Covid-19. It’s understood that only vaccines approved by Thailand’s Food and Drug Administration or by the World Health Organisation, will be recognised in the vaccine passport scheme.

In order to be valid, the vaccine passport must be signed by an approved disease control official. The Royal Gazette has published an order from the Department of Disease Control authorising 6 such officials to sign the document.

Each vaccine passport is for individual use only. Parents of children under the age of 7 will be required to sign their document for them, while people who cannot write will be required to provide a fingerprint.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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Tourism

World’s most travel-friendly passport list – 2021

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World’s most travel-friendly passport list – 2021 | Thaiger
FILE PHOTO: Japan tops the list of most travel-friendly passports.

The Henley Passport Index, which rates which passports are the most travel-friendly, has just released the list for 2021, with Japan once again at the top of the list.

But the Index noted that this year’s international travel freedom comparison is mostly theoretical as the current Covid-19 situation continues to limit most international travel.

With a Japanese passport, travellers can enter 193 countries without a visa or with a visa-on-arrival. On the other end of the list, an Afghanistan passport can only get into 26 countries. The gap of 167 countries is the widest gap since the Henley Passport Index began tracking this data 15 years ago in 2006.

Singapore kept its second-place this year standing with just one less destination than Japan, followed by Germany and South Korea tied for 3rd place with 191 destinations. The rest of the top 10 are mainly European countries, with the exception of New Zealand and the US as part of the 5-way tie for 7th place with 187 destinations, and Australia and Canada tied for 9th place with 185 destinations.

The US and UK passports took a tumble, once tied for the most travel-friendly passport back in 2014, now losing ground slipping to 7th place. On the other hand, United Arab Emirates strengthened diplomatic ties worldwide and jumped 50 spots this year from 65th all the way to 15th. Over the decade, the climb is even more dramatic, with the Emirates exploding from 67 destinations 10 years ago up 107 destinations to 174 this year. China did well also, climbing 22 places since 2011, up to number 68 on the list.

Thailand’s passport is tied with Saudi Arabia at 66th with 79 destinations available without an advance visa.

The full list of most travel-friendly passports…
1. Japan (193 destinations)
2. Singapore (192)
3. Germany, South Korea (191)
4. Finland, Italy, Luxembourg, Spain (190)
5. Austria, Denmark (189)
6. France, Ireland, Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden (188)
7. Belgium, New Zealand, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States (187)
8. Czech Republic, Greece, Malta, Norway (186)
9. Australia, Canada (185)
10. Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia (183)

Henley and Partners predict that the spread in passport access will mirror Covid-19 affected travel. Rich and mobile regions like the US, UK, EU and UAE are getting access to vaccination, hastening their ability to travel, while poorer and developing economies are experiencing a much slower vaccine roll-out.

Experts from Syracuse University, the University of Pittsburgh, and the Migration Policy Centre predict this trend will continue with potentially devastating long-term effects.

Countries that can afford and facilitate vaccination for their citizens quickly will be able to welcome travellers in for tourism and business and be able to travel more themselves. Conversely, countries that can’t afford the storage and distribution of vaccines will be less able to travel or welcome tourism income, widening a global wealth gap.

Remote working and the digital nomad lifestyle has been booming in recent years and with Covid-19 forcing businesses to adapt to telecommuting, the post-pandemic world will see more remote working, and countries falling behind with vaccinations will suffer the long-term loss in tourism dollars too.

SOURCE: CNN

World's most travel-friendly passport list - 2021 | News by Thaiger

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