Taipei 101 Tower, Taiwan's highest skyscraper. Photo: Uwe Aranas/Wikipedia Commons.
Taipei 101 Tower, Taiwan's highest skyscraper. Photo: Uwe Aranas/Wikipedia Commons.

In October 2016, Taiwan’s National Security Bureau (NSB) submitted a report to the Legislative Yuan regarding potential terrorist attacks on the island. Although it has thus far remained off the radar for terrorism, the probability of an attack by foreign terror groups increased when ISIS released a propaganda video in 2015 naming Taiwan in a list of 60 countries that are part of the anti-ISIS coalition — along with a photo of the Taipei 101 tower on fire on an ISIS twitter account.

Moreover, as ISIS is expanding in Southeast Asia and radicalizing portions of its population, the threat of lone-wolf attacks by Southeast Asian migrant workers residing in Northeast Asia is steadily increasing. There are some 500,000 Indonesian migrant workers in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore, with about 170,000 residing in Taiwan according to Taiwan’s ministry of labor.

Indeed, in February 2017 Taiwan deported an Indonesian migrant worker, Tri Astinigsih, back to Jakarta for ties to ISIS. The case was the first of its kind in Taiwan, and an Indonesian immigration official was quoted as saying that several other Indonesian citizens living and working in Taiwan were under observation for possible cooperation with terrorist and extremist groups like ISIS.

Female terror bombers on the increase

In December 2016, Indonesian authorities also arrested two female would-be suicide bombers, one of whom was radicalized online while working in Taiwan. The uptick of women being spurred via social media to engage in jihad led to a study released in January 2017 by Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (Ipac) on this worrying trend. Ipac analyst Nava Nuraniyah cautioned in a recent New York Times article on July 17 entitled “Migrant Maids and Nannies for Jihad,” that “the radicalization of Indonesian maids and nannies working in East Asia is alarming.”

Nuraniyah reported that about 45 Indonesian domestic workers in Hong Kong have already been identified as active ISIS supporters and there may be twice as many, and warned that despite the seemingly small number it takes very few people to do considerable harm. Anis Hidayah, executive-director of Migrant Care, said migrant workers were targeted by drug traffickers and hardliners because they are vulnerable and potential “victims of fundamentalism,” and suspects there are more ISIS sympathizers and supporters in Hong Kong and Taiwan than have been reported.

Despite these indicators, Taiwan seems ill-equipped to address this emerging threat. Peter Enav, former head of the Associated Press Taiwan bureau, noted that Taiwan has an “abysmally low-security awareness quotient.”

New regulations needed to counter attacks

As such, Lin Tai-ho, associate professor at the Institute of Strategic and International Affairs in Taiwan’s National Chung Cheng University, called for the government to draft legislation for better anti-terror preparedness. Lin says that without new regulations different government departments might not know how to respond effectively to a terror attack.

In addition to the threat of current lone wolves among the migrant population with links to ISIS, in 2002 Al Qaeda allegedly attempted to carry out a car-bomb attack at Taipei Songshan Airport. With the approaching 2017 Summer Universiade taking place August 19 to 30 in Taipei, it is all the more urgent for the Taiwanese government to take precautionary measures. The athletic competition is expected to attract 12,000 participants from 150 countries and represents a potential target for foreign terror attack on Taiwan, according to the NSB report.

The report drafted anti-terror measures, including strengthening the collection and sharing of intelligence with other countries to improve border management and security, enhanced security measures in crowded places, and ensuring anti-terrorism measures are in place for the Universiade.

However, formal anti-terror regulation is still lacking, although in June 2016 the Legislative Yuan approved a bill to ban terrorist finance. This is a first step, and Tsai Yi-yu, a legislator from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, said approval of the bill signals that Taiwan will not be absent in the “international anti-terrorism fight.”

Christina Lin

Christina Lin is a US-based foreign policy analyst. She has extensive government experience working on US national security and economic issues and was a CBRN research consultant for Jane's Information Group.

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