The US' most-wanted list of terrorists in Asia seems to be expanding. Its most recent inclusion is Pakistani Islamist leader Hafiz Saeed - an addition that highlights the threat of Asian terrorism.
Recently, the US government put a bounty of 10 million US dollars (7.6 million euros) on the head of Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, Pakistan's infamous Islamist leader and founder of the banned terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba. Saeed is accused of masterminding terrorist attacks carried out by Pakistan-based gunmen in India's financial capital Mumbai in 2008. The US government also holds him responsible for bombings in Kabul in 2010 and an attack on Indian parliament in New Delhi in 2001.
The head money on Saeed is quite high. Only three militants, including Taliban's leader Mullah Omar, have that high a bounty. Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has a 25-million-dollar reward on his head.
Both Omar and al-Zawahiri are believed to be hiding in Pakistan - a nuclear power which many security and counter-terrorism experts consider an instable Islamic country.
State protection for Saeed
Saeed's case is unique. He was acquitted by a Pakistani court in 2009 of terror charges. The Pakistani government maintains there is not enough proof against Saeed despite "sufficient evidence" provided by New Delhi.
The Islamist leader moves freely in Pakistan, and even enjoys full protection of Pakistani military and intelligence officials. Ali K. Chishti, a Karachi-based political and security analyst, told DW that the last time Hafiz Saeed visited Karachi, he was guarded by 300 Pakistani security personnel.
"It seems that Pakistan considers Hafiz Saeed a strategic partner and asset who they believe safeguards Pakistan's interests," Chishti said.
Chishti also said that it should be a matter of concern for Pakistan that such high-profile militants are moving around in the country without fear.
"It is not just about Mullah Omar. Many Quetta Shura (assembly of the Afghan Taliban) members have been caught in urban areas of Pakistan. Osama bin Laden was also hiding in Abbottabad, close to the military academy," Chishti pointed out, adding that it should concern Islamabad.
"But I know through my interaction with military generals and intelligence officials in Pakistan that they somehow use these militants as a bargaining chip with the West."
Tazeen Javed, an Islamabad-based columnist writing for The Express Tribune, said that the US and Pakistan were playing a game of "cat and mouse" over Saeed.
"Supporting people like Hafiz Saeed is Pakistan's way of showing defiance to the US," Tazeen said.
But South Asian extremism is not the only threat to the US. The rise of radical Islam in countries like Malaysia and Indonesia is believed to be the next big challenge for the US and other Western countries that are leading the global "war on terror."
"The increase in networking between Southeast Asian radical and Islamist forces and al Qaeda follows a similar pattern in other regions of the world," said Dr. Aurel Croissant, professor of Comparative Politics at the University of Heidelberg.
Croissant told DW that other factors behind the surge in radicalization in Southeast Asia were the Afghan War (of the 1980s), as it served as a breeding ground for radical forces, and the September 2001 terrorist attacks in the US. He also said that globalization played a big role in this regard as it made the flow of information and goods easier for Southeast Asian militants.
Despite that, Croissant pointed out that the reasons for growing Islamization in Southeast Asia were local.
"Most of the radical groups in Southeast Asia are still local in their aims, in their recruitments, and in their tactics and activities."
"Southern Thailand is a good example. There is no proven link between Muslim insurgents in southern Thailand and global terrorists," he added.
But many experts see more cooperation between terrorists from the Far East and the ones operating in other parts of the world. Last year, Indonesian terrorist Umar Patek, who was accused of playing a key role in the 2002 Bali bombings, was captured in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad. In some other instances, Southeast Asian Islamists have traveled to South Asian countries to receive training.
Author: Shamil Shams
Editor: Sarah Berning