Increased military pressure on the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq could see hundreds of Indonesian, Filipino and Malaysian insurgents head back to their Southeast Asian homes and heighten the threat of a terror attack in the region, according to analysts. This could include the possibility of a terror attack in Macau.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Southeast Asia and the Pacific estimates that there are around 500 Indonesians, 100 Filipinos and 100 Malaysians currently fighting as insurgents in Syria and Iraq.
The office has previously stated that militants losing ground in the Middle East might consider returning to Southeast Asia, which “includes many who will want to pursue violent jihad in the region.”
Macau is among the potential targets in the region for Islamic terrorist attacks, according to Hong Kong- based risk consultancy Steve Vickers and Associates. The group repeated its 2016 warning in a report last month which stated that the city remains “vulnerable”.
The 2017 Annual Asia Risk Assessment, published by the organization, stated: “An understated threat [to Macau] is terrorism. Macau represents a unique agglomeration of Chinese, American and Jewish interests, engaged alongside triad societies in an activity [gambling] that Islamists deem sinful. Worse, the city is vulnerable.”
Two influential people in Macau, Steve Wynn and Sheldon Adelson, are both Jewish, and the latter has close ties with both Israeli president Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. president Donald Trump. Though neither casino tycoon is based in the city, both own multibillion-dollar integrated resorts in Macau that could be potential targets.
Citing an anonymous “security insider”, Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post claims that the Macau International Airport is considered a “weak link” in the chain when it comes to the MSAR’s external security. The airport connects Macau to various Southeast Asian destinations, including Malaysia and the Philippines.
In January 2016, in response to the report issued by Steve Vickers and Associates, the director of the Judiciary Police (PJ) stated that although the threat of an Islamic terrorist attack in Macau remained low, contingency measures were being planned.
PJ director Chau Wai Kuong explained the city’s security forces had been developing mechanisms to respond to such an event with the cooperation of Hong Kong and mainland authorities.
“We are actively carrying out preventive measures such as collecting data and participating in joint anti-terror drills with police forces in Hong Kong, mainland China, and even Guangdong Province,” Chau said.
Vickers’ Outlook for Greater China
The 2017 Annual Asia Risk Assessment, published last month by specialist risk and security consultancy Steve Vickers and Associates, included a summary of the major challenges facing the greater China region.
The report noted that for mainland China, the country’s tightening political climate and rising economic nationalism could mean brewing instability. Moreover, tensions with Taiwan – exacerbated by the rhetoric of the new U.S. administration – could present an enduring strain for Beijing-Taipei relations in 2017. In relation to the two Special Administrative Regions, Macau is deemed likely to fare much better than its sister SAR.
Dissent and the intensification of the localism movement in Hong Kong will entrench both the positions of the local government and the protestors, the report predicted.
Together with a general weakening of the rule of law and greater intervention from Beijing, the instability may present “moderate risks to investors” this year. Meanwhile, Macau will face “relative political stability and a reviving economy” in 2017, even if the slim chance of a terrorist attack on casinos persists.