Terrorism in Southeast Asia: An NPR Special Report
Five-Part Series Traces Spread of Al Qaeda, Militant Islam
February 3-7, 2003 -- In a five-part series for Morning Edition, NPR's Eric Weiner and Michael Sullivan examine the spread of terrorism in Southeast Asia. The series assesses the growth of militant Islamist groups, including al Qaeda cells, in five countries in the region: The Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.
See a map of the region.
This and other NPR News series are available on CD.
Part 1: The Philippines
At first glance, the Roman Catholic country seems an unlikely place for an al Qaeda cell. But investigators believe this is indeed where al Qaeda first gained a foothold in Southeast Asia, says Weiner. Osama bin Laden's brother-in-law ran a network of Islamic charities in the southern Philippines; some of the money was funneled to local Muslim militants. And Ramzi Yousef planned the 1993 World Trade Center bombing from a safe house in Manila. Philippine investigators also uncovered a plot to fly a plane into CIA headquarters -- five years before the Sept. 11 attacks -- but no one took it seriously, Weiner says.
Listen to Part 1, Monday, February 3, 2003
Part 2: Indonesia
Al Qaeda's Southeast Asian operations may have begun in the Philippines, but neighboring Indonesia -- the most populous Muslim country in the world -- has provided the most fertile ground for militant Islam, Sullivan reports. Several alleged terrorist groups have been active in Indonesia for years. One of them is the group called Jemmah Islamiyah, which is believed responsible for dozens of attacks in Indonesia in the past several years, including the bombings on the resort island of Bali in October 2002. Investigators say it's clear the group has close ties to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, Sullivan reports.
Listen to Part 2, Tuesday, February 4, 2003
Part 3: Malaysia
This mainly-Muslim nation of 20 million people, sandwiched between Thailand and Singapore, has not yet been a terrorist target. Sullivan reports. But Malaysian authorities are worried that another Bali-style bombing could happen in their country. The group believed responsible for the Bali blasts -- Jemmah Islamiyah -- and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda have used Malaysia extensively in the past decade as a base of operations, Sullivan says. And despite a crackdown by Malaysian authorities, there are fears attacks could happen here.
Listen to Part 3, Wednesday, February 5, 2003
Part 4: Singapore
In December 2001, alleged members of the terrorist group Jemmah Islamiyah had a plan: bomb the U.S., Australian and Israeli embassies in Singapore, steal and fly a jet into the terminal at Singapore's Changi airport and attack a visiting U.S. warship at Singapore's naval port. Singaporean authorities got wind of the plot and stopped it in time. If the attacks had succeeded, they would have been the most deadly since Sept. 11 -- and would have had devastating ripple effects on the economy of the region. Sullivan looks at the plot and how it was thwarted.
Listen to Part 4, Thursday, February 6, 2003
Part 5: Thailand
Eager to promote its image as a tourist paradise and the self-described "land of smiles," Thailand has had lax visa requirements. Coupled with porous borders and an anything-goes attitude in the capital Bangkok, Weiner says it's no wonder Thailand has been called the ultimate "country of convenience." Thai officials now concede that the presumed mastermind of the Bali bombing, Hambali, planned the attacks during a meeting in Thailand. Security has been beefed up; but some warn that Thailand's many soft targets mean an attack is inevitable, Weiner says.
Listen to Part 5, Friday, February 7, 2003
Read about the Philippines in the Central Intelligence Agency's online World Factbook.
Read about Indonesia in the CIA's online World Factbook.
Read about Malaysia in the CIA's online World Factbook.
Read about Singapore in the CIA's online World Factbook.
Read about Thailand in the CIA's online World Factbook.
Browse an annotated directory of Web resources on East and Southeast Asia.
Review profiles of terrorist groups and incidents.
Learn more about the U.S. military's anti-terrorism role in the region.
Read a Center for Defense Information report on al Qaeda in Southeast Asia.
Read CNN.com reports on the war against terror in Southeast Asia.