BOSTON, April 17 (UPI) -- Battered by the war on terror, extremist groups in Southeast Asia apparently are recovering, thanks to the war in Iraq, according to an authority on Southeast Asia extremists.
The U.S.-led coalition's military strike to oust Saddam Hussein has fanned anti-American anger in the Muslim world and boosted al-Qaida's efforts to recruit terrorists, according to Zachary Abuza, an assistant professor of political science at Simmons College in Boston.
"What happened in Iraq just makes Muslims the world over feel humiliated, and they're angry," said Abuza, who faced death threats while researching possible links between Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network and other extremist groups in Southeast Asia, such as Jemaah Islamiah, or JI, and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, or MILF.
Abuza believes that anger will eventually translate into more terrorists in Southeast Asia.
The coalition's war in Iraq is "certainly doing Osama's recruiting for him," Abuza told United Press International.
"Right now they're rebuilding, they're lying low, they're recruiting new members, and for that reason you can say the war is quite good for them because anti-American sentiment is very strong throughout the region (Southeast Asia) because of Iraq," he said.
Al-Qaida and JI "took such a beating" since the war on terror was launched following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, that it has been difficult for them to execute attacks, he said.
Abuza believes that's changing, based on his interviews with suspected terrorists, leaders of Islamic insurgencies, intelligence and police officials.
Because of his research, Abuza is sought out by experts from around the world who are concerned over the growing global terrorist network.
Conducting his research was not without its risks, he said.
"I've had knives pulled on me, stones thrown at my head and," he said, "told to get out of town."
Muslims also believe the war was an attack on their religion, he said.
"The Muslims of Southeast Asia look at what America did in Iraq, and they compare it to what America didn't do in North Korea," Abuza said.
"In Southeast Asian eyes, they look at that and they just say, 'See. It IS a Muslim thing.'"
Because of the anger, Abuza believes there will be increased terrorist attacks, especially on so-called soft targets.
The fact that militants were choosing easier targets shows they were hurting from the crackdown by regional security agencies, but Abuza believes it would be foolish to underestimate their capabilities or goals.
"You always get small terrorist acts in Southeast Asia," he said, but he believes that because "institutionally JI and al-Qaida suffered a setback in Southeast Asia," he is not expecting a major attack in the near future.
He also expressed concern that public pressure on governments will help terrorist groups rebuild.
"People in Indonesia and Malaysia are so angry at the Americans right now, that even governments that had been cooperating with the United States in the war on terror might call off their security services," he said. "There might just be such political pressure on the political leadership to stop the war on terror."
The United States has a lot of work to do to deflect some of the criticism and anger, he said.
"We've got to get the international community involved again," he said.
He cautioned, however, that the problem could get worse if things go bad in Iraq in terms of the reconstruction.
"I can see a lot going wrong in Iraq," he said. "I think it's going to be a very difficult process rebuilding this place, and if there are problems, they're going to be magnified in the Muslim media throughout Southeast Asia."
Abuza, who earned his master's and doctorate degrees from the Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, said violent extremists really are a minority in the Muslim world.
"One of the mistakes that everyone made was assuming that because the radicals are such a fringe minority, al-Qaida could never find a home" in Southeast Asia.
However, the conditions that allow the growth of radical groups -- such as places to train, weak central government control, corrupt officials, porous borders, money laundering facilities -– "all these things Southeast Asia has in spades."
Abuza's book, "Militant Islam in Southeast Asia, Crucible of Terror," published by Lynne Rienner, comes out this summer.
(For more information, see Web site Simmons.edu or do an Internet search for Zachary Abuza.)