Saturday, 4 April 2015

ISIS attack on Malaysia imminent, says top counterterror official

TODAY, 3 Apr 2015

KUALA LUMPUR — Evidence gathered so far of Malaysian involvement in the Islamic State has led the police to warn that attacks by the group on Malaysian soil are imminent, the country’s counterterrorism director, Mr Ayub Khan Mydin, said yesterday.

In a special briefing on the threats of Islamic extremism in the country, Mr Ayub said police intelligence has indicated that it was only a matter of time before an attack is launched.

“It is not a matter of if we will be attacked, but when,” he told the executive briefing.

Mr Ayub said Malaysian Islamic State members have made direct threats to attack Malaysia, including plans to bomb entertainment spots as part of a plan by the group, also known as ISIS, to “punish” Malaysia for being an “apostate” country.

“They view us as apostates. First they deem us bidaah (deviant), then they say we are apostates and then next thing is to say our blood is halal,” Mr Ayub said.

The warnings come only days after Malaysia began debating new anti-terror laws in Parliament that would empower the government to detain, impose harsher penalties on, and seize travel documents of suspects amid the rising threat of the Islamic State.

The Malaysian government said late last year that it would introduce new measures after arresting dozens of Malaysians suspected of supporting the Islamic State.

A group of radicals arrested last year were planning to attack several targets in Malaysia and had their sights set on a wider campaign — the creation of an Islamic Caliphate that includes Singapore.

In Singapore, Mr Rohan Gunaratna, the head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, told TODAY that the assessment by Mr Ayub “is accurate”.

“ISIS cells in South-east Asia are planning to mount attacks in the region,” said Prof Gunaratna, using the acronym for Islamic State.

“Thus, there should be a concerted effort to dismantle both the platforms, groups disseminating ISIS ideology, and those operationally and ideologically linked to ISIS,” he said.

To date, there are an estimated 63 Malaysians in Syria fighting with Islamic State.

As many as 240 Malaysians have been identified and were arrested from 2001 to 2009 for links to Jemaah Islamiyah, a group with an extensive network in Malaysia, Indonesia and the southern Philippines that has professed support for Islamic State.

Mr Ayub said Malaysians are drawn to the group’s ideology that those who fight with them are guaranteed a place in “jannah” (heaven) and that those who go against them are considered as apostates that Islam ordains to kill.

He added that this has driven them to believe that their own country is a part of an international conspiracy by infidels bent on preventing the rise of the Islamic caliphate as supposedly promised by Prophet Muhammad.

“They really view us as infidels. And they believe that as infidels, we deserved to be sembelih (decapitated),” he said, pointing to one Facebook threat made by a Malaysian Islamic State member who said that he would not hesitate to murder his own family members if they too supported the government’s fight against IS.

In Singapore, Home Affairs Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said last month that the growing threat posed by Islamic State was real and was a threat to South-east Asia.

“Self-radicalised individuals may also be influenced by (Islamic State) to carry out attacks in their home countries. Such attacks are often opportunistic, and therefore, difficult to detect and prevent”, he said.

To combat this threat, he said Singapore’s borders, infrastructure and intelligence capabilities will be strengthened and the Government will work with international partners to identify and pre-empt terrorist threats.


* Malaysia passes anti-terror law despite objections
Barisan Nasional MPs cite ISIS threat to brush aside opposition's protests
By Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani, Malaysia Correspondent In Kuala Lumpur, The Straits Times, 8 Apr 2015

IT TOOK nearly 15 hours of intense debate before the Malaysian Parliament passed the Prevention of Terrorism Bill, with ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) backbenchers citing the "extraordinary" threats posed by extremist groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

In the process, they overrode the protests of some opposition lawmakers who called the controversial Bill a "twin" of the repealed Internal Security Act. By the time it was passed without amendment in the early hours of yesterday, the clock read 2.25am.

The Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota) is aimed at curbing Islamic militancy and allows, among other things, the authorities to detain terrorism suspects without charge and also detention without trial.

In supporting Pota, BN MPs cited the possibility of terrorist attacks on the Petronas Twin Towers, much like what happened to the World Trade Center in New York during the Sept 11, 2001 attacks that left nearly 3,000 dead.

One of them, Mr Annuar Musa, wanted to know if the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) alliance was ready to compromise national security for human rights.

"Are you willing to allow thousands to die if there is a terror attack on the Petronas Twin Towers because the authorities do not have the mechanism or space to arrest and stop those suspected of terrorism?" he said.

Another BN MP, Datuk Seri Azalina Othman, said those who opposed the Bill were in fact supporting terrorism.

"Barisan Nasional respects the law, but the opposition does not. Pota is meant to protect the sovereignty of the country."

She also said existing laws already protect civil rights but stressed that there was no such thing as "absolute freedom". "What about the rights of our anak dara (young girls) who are influenced and brainwashed by the militants?" she asked.

Separately, bolstering the government's case yesterday, police said the 17 suspected militants arrested at the weekend were planning to set up an ISIS-like regime in Malaysia.

Indonesia's top anti-terrorism chief, General Saud Usman Nasution, also told The Straits Times that Indonesia and Malaysia needed to jointly combat terrorism.

In Parliament on Tuesday night, PR MPs pushed for amendments to the Bill, such as shortening the remand period from 21 days to not more than 14 days, and a requirement that the arresting officer should be at least a superintendent in rank.

They forced a total of nine bloc votes but each amendment was defeated. A bloc vote is usually called when at least 15 MPs demand one and, in such a case, the votes are counted individually.

As it neared midnight, the clock was stopped to allow the debate to continue as the BN was determined to get the Bill passed - and it was, by 79 votes to 60.

A third of PR lawmakers were missing during the debate. Critics said if all 86 of them were there, they would have been able to prevent the Bill from being passed.

Pota has been criticised by Human Rights Watch, which questioned Putrajaya's commitment to fundamental human rights.

Law professor Azmi Sharom said history was repeating itself. "This is exactly what happened when they introduced the Internal Security Act, down to the point where they used combating violence as justification, and the minister at the time swore the Act would not be used against dissidents."

KL nabs 17 suspects as legislators debate anti-terror Bill
By Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani, Malaysia Correspondent In Kuala Lumpur, The Straits Times, 7 Apr 2015

MALAYSIA detained 17 suspected militants allegedly planning terror activities in the country, a day before the Prevention of Terrorism Bill was tabled for a second reading yesterday.

Two of the 17 had just returned from Syria, according to Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar, who praised the counter-terrorism unit's arrests in a tweet.

Sunday's arrests came as Deputy Home Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar called for bi-partisan support when tabling the Bill for the proposed Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota) in Parliament. He gave the assurance that Pota was not a "twin" of the scrapped Internal Security Act (ISA), and clarified that executive power would be in the hands of a Prevention of Terrorism Board.

The minister stressed the importance of passing the Bill to prevent any terrorist attacks against landmarks such as the Petronas Twin Towers and the Kuala Lumpur airport. "In the ISA previously, the police would decide whom to detain, but under Pota, only the board is allowed to make such a decision. As such, criticisms that Pota is the twin of the ISA are baseless, inaccurate and untrue."

The Bill, which Putrajaya first tabled last Monday, empowers the authorities to seize travel documents of both citizens and foreigners, impose harsher penalties on those who are convicted while under restriction, and jail for up to 30 years those caught training, travelling or building transportation devices for terrorism. It also gives the authorities powers to detain suspects indefinitely without trial, but states that "no person shall be arrested and detained... solely for his political belief or political activity".

A Prevention of Terrorism Board, with five to eight members, will also have the power to impose two-year detention or five-year restriction orders that can be renewed indefinitely.

No judicial review of the board's decision will be allowed except on issues of compliance with the provisions under Pota, according to the Bill.

The proposed anti-terrorism legislation came after the government tabled a White Paper last November, in which it provided data and presented its position on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria threat, which has seen at least 68 suspects nabbed in the past two years.

During yesterday's debate, ruling Barisan Nasional MPs, in arguing for Pota to be passed, cited potential attacks on the Petronas Twin Towers. This was a reminder of Al-Qaeda's Sept 11, 2011 terrorist attacks in the United States.

Opposition Pakatan Rakyat MPs who oppose the Pota Bill on the grounds that it ignores human rights intend to table their own version. The amended Bill will, among other things, propose a remand period not exceeding 14 days and that the arresting officer shall hold a rank no lower than superintendent.

<<Lessons from Malaysia>> Recently, I wrote about lessons that we could learn from Lithuania which is facing threats...
Posted by Ng Eng Hen - Defence Minister on Wednesday, April 8, 2015

UN warns of threat from 25,000 foreign fighters
Syria, Iraq now 'veritable finishing school for extremists'
The Straits Times, 3 Apr 2015

NEW YORK - More than 25,000 foreign fighters from 100 countries have travelled to join militant groups such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda, posing an immediate and long-term threat to global security, a United Nations report has warned.

The report estimated that the number of foreign fighters rose by 71 per cent between the middle of last year and last month.

With most of them in Syria and Iraq, the two countries have become a "veritable finishing school for extremists", said the report by experts monitoring UN sanctions against Al-Qaeda.

Defeating the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the two countries could also lead to the dispersal of experienced fighters across the world, it added.

The experts said in their report that along with some 22,000 foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq, there were also 6,500 in Afghanistan and hundreds more in Yemen, Libya, Pakistan and Somalia.

At a meeting of the 15-member Security Council chaired by US President Barack Obama in September, the experts were asked to report within six months on the threat from foreign fighters joining ISIS, which has declared a caliphate in Syria and Iraq, Nusra Front in Syria and other Al-Qaeda-linked groups. "For the thousands of (foreign fighters) who travelled to the Syrian Arab Republic and Iraq... they live and work in a veritable 'international finishing school' for extremists as it was in the case in Afghanistan during the 1990s," the experts wrote in their report, submitted to the council late last month.

Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden found refuge in Afghanistan in the 1990s, where the militant group ran training camps.

The UN experts said Libya had increasingly become a training base for fighters bound for the Middle East but since this year, there had been a reverse flow from the Middle East to Libya. "Those who eat together and bond together can bomb together," they wrote. "The globalisation of Al-Qaeda and associates, particularly visible with (ISIS), but also evident with Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (in Yemen), creates a deepening array of transnational social networks."

The report warned of a medium-term threat from the new crop of fighters via "plug and play social networks for future attack planning - linking diverse foreign fighters from different communities across the globe".

In the report, the experts said the most effective policy that governments can implement is prevention of radicalisation, recruitment, and travel of would-be fighters, reported Associated Press. They noted that less than 10 per cent of basic data for identifying foreign fighters was being shared and called for more cooperation. The report gave the positive example of the "watch list" in Turkey - a key transit point to Syria and Iraq - which has grown to include 12,500 individuals.

The Security Council adopted a resolution in September demanding that all states make it a serious criminal offence for citizens to go abroad to fight with militants, or recruit and fund others to do so.


Malaysia's ISIS dilemma
By Joseph Chinyong Liow, Published The Straits Times, 27 Apr 2015

THE recent emergence of an ISIS recruitment video featuring young Malay-speaking (and possibly also Indonesian) boys attending religious classes and engaging in weapons training in ISIS-held territory has caused a furore in Malaysia.

Estimates of the number of Malaysian fighters in ISIS - the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militant group - vary from 60 to almost 150. The high end of these figures approximates the number of Indonesian fighters believed to be in Syria and Iraq. Yet the population of Malaysia is barely one 10th that of Indonesia. In other words, Malaysians seem to be joining ISIS at a higher rate than Indonesians are.

This state of affairs is all the more perplexing, given how often Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak waxes lyrical on the international stage about moderation and how Malaysia is the epitome of multi-ethnic and inter-religious harmony, as he continues to press a nebulous "Global Movement of Moderates" agenda.

What accounts for the appeal of ISIS in "moderate" Malaysia?

To answer this question, let us start with the official Malaysian view on the causes of international terrorism, especially religiously motivated terrorism. Malaysia's Muslim leaders have frequently singled out US foreign policies that affect the Muslim world - particularly the invasion of Iraq, Washington's unstinting support for Israel, lack of sympathy for the Palestinian cause, and war in Afghanistan - as one of the main causes of terrorism today.

To be sure, much can be said about how these factors have inflamed Muslim sentiment worldwide. But my intention here is to look at the challenge that religiously inspired terrorism in general, and ISIS in particular, poses for Malaysia. To that end, I argue that while "external factors" are important, the main causes for concern may well originate within Malaysia's own borders.

Four observations can be drawn from the Malaysian domestic context, which I believe speak to the conditions that exist for virulent ideologies like that of ISIS to potentially find sympathy and a following.

First, in the 2013 Pew Global Attitudes Survey, it was noted that "in Malaysia... roughly a quarter of Muslims (27 per cent) take the view that attacks on civilians are sometimes or often justified".

However, if we add to this number the 12 per cent who take the view that violence is "rarely justified" in defence of Islam (as opposed to never justified), essentially 39 per cent of the Malaysian Muslims surveyed believed that violence can be justified against enemies of Islam. Significantly, Indonesians polled only 18 per cent on the same question (1 per cent, "often"; 5 per cent, "sometimes" and 12 per cent, "rarely"). In another 2013 poll conducted by the Pew Research Centre, "The world's Muslims: religion, politics and society", a mere 8 per cent of Malaysians expressed concern about Muslim extremism while 31 per cent were concerned about Christian extremism.

Reading this survey, I could not help but come away with one thought - 39 per cent of the Malaysian Muslims surveyed believed that violence can be justified against enemies of Islam. What is the relevance of the figures in the Malaysian context? I will return to this in a moment.

Second, Islam has unfortunately become heavily politicised in Malaysia. Malaysia's dominant political party, Umno, is a Malay-Muslim party that was created with the main objective, at least in theory, of promoting and defending Malay-Muslim supremacy.

According to the party's narrative, this supremacy is coming under siege from various cultural (read: non-Malay vernacular education) and religious (read: non-Muslim) quarters and hence has to be staunchly defended. Given that Malaysia has a Malay-Muslim majority population, it should come as no surprise that Umno's chief political opponents are also Malay-Muslim parties which equally brandish religious credentials as a source of legitimacy.

Let me be clear: Islam casts a pale shadow over Malaysia today not because it is Islam, or even Islamism per se, but because its proponents (and "defenders") are articulating a particularly exclusive brand of Islam that is divorced from the religion's historically enlightened traditions, and which has no intention to encourage pluralism or compromise.

The net effect of this is that non-Muslim Malaysians are marginalised as Islamist parties try to "out-Islam" each other. As Umno struggles to cling to power by focusing on its religious credentials above all else, religion has become heavily politicised and is viewed as a zero-sum game.

Third, this politicisation of Islam is taking place against a backdrop of an exceedingly strong state which has taken it upon itself to police Islam and curtail any expression of faith that departs from the mainstream Shafi'i tradition. Yes, the ummah may be universal and Islamic confessional traditions may be diverse but, in Malaysia, there is very little room for compromise beyond the "Islam" sanctioned by the state.

The Shi'ite tradition is legally proscribed, and several smaller Islamic sects are deemed deviant and, hence, banned. All this happens despite the existence of constitutional provisions for freedom of worship.

Fourth, rather than extol the virtues and conciliatory features of Islam's rich tradition, many Malay-Muslim political leaders have instead chosen to use religion to amplify difference, to reinforce extreme interpretations of Malay-Muslim denizen rights, and to condemn the "other" (non-Muslims) as a threat to these rights. For fear of further erosion of legitimacy and political support, the Malay-Muslim leadership of the country has in its public statements circled the wagons, allowing vocal right-wing ethno-nationalist and religious groups to preach incendiary messages against Christians and Hindus with impunity. In extreme cases, they have even flippantly referred to fellow Malaysians who are adherents of other religious faiths as "enemies of Islam". Even state-sanctioned Friday sermons have occasionally taken to referring to non-Muslim Malaysians as "enemies of Islam". Against this backdrop, the findings of the Pew surveys cited earlier take on a greater, more disconcerting meaning.

Of course, not all in the Malay-Muslim leadership engage in this kind of narrow religio-political discourse. I know that a few of them privately sympathise with non-Muslim consternation about how the right to freedom of religion is being blatantly undermined. The problem is, they dare not speak out publicly, thus creating the impression that they support the majoritarian narrative of exclusion of non-Muslims.

So how is all this related to ISIS and Malaysia's concern for the group's growing influence on its shores? My point is this - is it any surprise, given the four observations enumerated above, that the climate of religio-political discourse in Malaysia today would lend itself to the pull of extremist ideas of a group such as ISIS?

To be sure, Malaysia has a very competent internal security apparatus. But security measures alone are insufficient to deal with the threat the country currently faces.

Indeed, without changing the way Malaysian society views and articulates Islam to allow for critical engagement of extremist ideas, the utility of security measures is limited at best. Worse still, they might end up feeding an extremist mindset. While critical engagement will not eradicate the problem, I believe it will go some distance in reducing it.

But in order to set a new tone for public discourse on Islam, pluralism and critical engagement of extremist ideas, it will require political will and leadership at the very top.

The Malay Mail reported recently that Malaysia's top counter-terrorism official opined that an ISIS attack on Malaysia "was just a matter of time". If so, the Malaysian authorities would be well advised to consider that the appeal of ISIS may not be attributed to developments in Syria or Iraq, or US foreign policy in the Muslim world alone.

It could well start at home, where the political and social climate that allows exclusivist right-wing groups and politicians to speak and act with impunity is the same one that will provide recruits and sympathisers for insidious organisations such as ISIS.

The writer is the inaugural holder of the Lee Kuan Yew Chair in South-east Asia Studies and senior fellow at the Brookings Centre for East Asia Policy Studies. This article first appeared on The Brookings Institution website.

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