JAKARTA -- Southeast Asian terror groups still pose a "very real" and strategic threat requiring vigilance from regional governments, despite a drop in attacks, an Australian think-tank said Wednesday.
The Australian Strategic Policy Institute report said groups such as Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) of Indonesia, responsible for the 2002 Bali bombing that killed more than 200 people, were still capable of launching major terror attacks.
The report, which also examined Muslim radical movements in the Philippines and southern Thailand, warned policymakers against complacency after a successful police crackdown on JI in Indonesia since 2002.
The group was now split between a fanatical hardcore that still believed in violence and a less extreme wing, but it could muster about 900 militants, including at least 15 "first generation leaders."
"Despite these changes, however, JI continues to represent a significant threat to both Australian and regional security interests," the report said.
"The strategic threat from terrorism remains multifaceted and real" especially in the region's "ungoverned spaces" such as southern Thailand and Mindanao in the Philippines, where religious conflicts fester, it said.
"It is essential therefore that Australian and Southeast Asian governments remain vigilant in the face of evolving political developments in these areas and work conscientiously to make these ungoverned spaces less hospitable to terrorist exploitation."
The report, titled "Neighbourhood Watch: the Evolving Terrorist Threat in Southeast Asia," was written by Peter Chalk, a senior policy analyst with the Rand Corporation in the United States, and former Australian Labor Party national security advisor and academic Carl Ungerer.
Its release comes two weeks after Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd pledged to boost security ties with Indonesia during his first state visit to Jakarta since taking office in November.
Three men convicted of plotting the Bali attacks, which killed more than 80 Australians, are awaiting execution in a Java prison. Other top suspects remain at large.
These include one of Southeast Asia's most wanted men, Malaysian-born Noordin Mohammad Top, who is believed to still be in Indonesia, and Aris Sumarsono, otherwise known as Zulkarnaen, who reportedly acts as Al-Qaeda's point man in Southeast Asia, the report said.
Several other hardcore JI extremists, including bomb experts, are believed to be hiding in the southern Philippines with the Abu Sayyaf Islamic militant group, it said.
Indonesian police have killed or arrested more than 200 members of Jemaah Islamiyah since 2002 but just one year ago senior officers were still describing the group's structure as intact.
The independent Australian institute warned officials across the region, but especially in Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines, against complacency.
"There are already some signs of this in Indonesia," the researchers said.
"According to one Indonesian analyst, elements of the political leadership in Jakarta believe that the terrorist problem has diminished and that further counter-terrorism initiatives against JI are unwarranted or, at the very least, are unnecessary.
"Similarly, Philippine government officials now believe the Moro Muslim terrorist threat is in its last throes," it said, even though any breakdown of ongoing talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front was likely to lead to a "major return to violence."