Analyst: As caliphate plans fail, Malaysian IS fighters set to return

isis-militant-malaysia-flag-1PETALING JAYA: Malaysians may try to go to other conflict zones to continue fighting for the Islamic State (IS) as the militant group loses ground in Iraq and Syria, a security analyst has said.

With the latest losses suffered by IS, the group has been reportedly driven from 96% of the territory it once held in the two nations, crushing its goal of establishing a “caliphate” in the region.

Militants from the group have surrendered or run away, with the Malaysian police saying some 53 Malaysians, including women and children, still stuck in Iraq and Syria.

“Some of the Malaysian militants may try to go to other conflict zones,” said Elina Noor, who is foreign policy and security studies director with the Institute of Strategic and International Studies.

“Others may still try to stay on and fight in Syria. Some may try to return and carry out violence closer to home.”

IS is said to be still actively operating in countries such as Afghanistan and Egypt while further away from the Middle East, cells have been operating in Indonesia and southern Philippines.

Another country most recently described by the United Nations to be an alternative destination for non-Middle Eastern fighters from the militant group is Somalia.

IS’ faction in Somalia has grown significantly over the past year, carrying out attacks in Puntland and receiving some funding from Syria and Iraq, a report by UN sanctions monitors said last Friday.

The report said the IS faction, which was estimated in 2016 “to number not more than a few dozen, has grown significantly in strength” and may “consist of as many as 200 fighters”.

The UN report raised concerns that the Bari region could become a potential haven for foreign IS fighters as the extremists are driven out of their strongholds in Syria and Iraq.

The IS group in Somalia “presents more natural appeal to foreign terrorist fighters than Al-Shabaab”, whose aim is to establish a state government by Islamic law, it added.

Al-Shabaab, another Islamist militant group, is affiliated with IS’ global rival Al-Qaeda.

Some foreign fighters fleeing Syria and Iraq were reported to have been separated from their families, who are now housed in refugee camps.

But there are also militants who flee with their families to regroup somewhere else.

Malaysia’s Inspector-General of Police Mohamad Fuzi Harun had earlier told FMT that the passports of Malaysians involved in IS activities in Iraq and Syria had been revoked by the government.

“All countries surrounding Iraq and Syria are cooperating with us,” he said. “If they cross the borders and get caught, we’ll know it from our security counterparts in those countries.”

Authorities also said the Malaysian government will accept Malaysians who want to return home from terror activities overseas but they will have to face the law and undergo rehabilitation to deradicalise them.

“The Malaysian security agencies have been monitoring these Malaysian fighters and I believe they are prepared to manage eventualities.

“This does not mean, however, that we can afford to be complacent. The expectation of an attack (on Malaysian soil) should always be in mind,” Elina said.