Warning of possible attacks by the Islamic State militant group (I.S.) in Asia, National Police Commissioner Neth Savoeun told his officers on Monday to tighten security and scale up counterterrorism efforts.
Speaking at a meeting at the National Police headquarters in Phnom Penh, General Savoeun said that based on information from the U.S. and Europe, I.S. may expand their attacks to Asia this year.
“Cambodia is part of the region. So Cambodia needs to strongly strengthen counterterrorism in order to prevent it from happening in Cambodia,” he said, according to a post on the National Police website.
Deputy National Police Commissioner Mok Chito said terrorism was not a particular problem in Cambodia, but was a global issue. As such, he said, Cambodia was working with countries in the region and further abroad to counter potential attacks.
“We got information that ISIS plans to expand their activities to Asia,” General Chito said by telephone on Monday, using another acronym for I.S.
“Previously, they have not entered yet, so we have to be careful in preventing them and trying to collect information in order to stop them and not allow these activities to enter our country,” he said.
While the threat posed by I.S. in Southeast Asia is real, and has grown since mid-2014, the risk should not be exaggerated, said Joseph Chinyong Liow, professor of comparative and international politics at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, to the U.S. House of Representatives’ homeland security committee in April.
“No ISIS-aligned group has developed the capability to mount catastrophic, mass casualty attacks in the region,” Mr. Liow said.
“Despite the hype, there is at present no ‘ISIS Southeast Asia,’ nor has ISIS central formally declared an interest in any Southeast Asian country,” he said.
Collaboration on counterterrorism, including joint training and providing equipment, was in the interest of Cambodia and other nations—even if the likelihood of an attack occurring on Cambodian soil was “very remote,” said Carl Thayer, a Southeast Asia military expert at the Australian Defence Force Academy.
If one were to happen, foreigners living in the country, not locals, would likely be the target because Cambodia had no role in wars in the Middle East, Mr. Thayer said.
And while Cambodian forces should be prepared to deal with any potential threat, he said the counterterrorism tools and knowledge offered by other countries were more likely to be used against domestic opponents of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government than against I.S. terrorists.
“It’s in the interest of Cambodia to have the training, but it’s likely to be used for something else,” he said.