Expert: Malaysian IS fighters unlikely to return home

militant-isis-malaysia-1PETALING JAYA: Malaysian Islamic State (IS) militants fighting overseas are more likely to stay on or fight elsewhere rather than return home, an analyst has said.

As the terror group lost its so-called caliphate in Iraq and Syria, foreign fighters are said to have dispersed to regroup elsewhere in the two nations.

Some authorities have described them as “running to the desert”.

They are also suspected to have returned home, where those caught by the authorities are made to face the law or sent for rehabilitation.

Others may have gone to other IS wilayats (regions) such as the group’s so-called Khorasan Province, covering swathes of land in Afghanistan and Pakistan, some experts said.

Southeast Asian security analyst Alexander Macleod said the Malaysian Special Branch’s anti-terrorism unit was collaborating with other regional and global agencies to keep track of terrorists entering the country.

“As such, most Malaysian fighters will stay on and continue to fight, or go to other countries like Myanmar or Thailand to join the insurgency movement there.

“There are many places still willing to provide refuge to these fighters,” said Macleod, who has written a report published by Global Risk Insights, a risk intelligence company.

Inspector-General of Police Mohamad Fuzi Harun earlier said that known Malaysian fighters have had their passports revoked.

Countries surrounding Iraq and Syria are also cooperating with Malaysian authorities should these fighters cross their borders.

Fuzi had told FMT that any fighter returning home would have to accept punishment as prescribed under the law.

The Philippine and Malaysian authorities have also announced the names of some Malaysians identified as fighting in the southern Philippine city of Marawi and elsewhere.

More than 1,100 people, mostly militants, were killed during the five months of clashes in Marawi between troops and militant groups which had pledged loyalty to IS. They had wanted to create a regional caliphate in the city but their attempt failed.

The Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium told FMT that based on chatter on IS-related communication channels, at least 30 Malaysians had been fighting in Marawi.

After the Marawi war ended, many of these Malaysian fighters were accounted for, including Sabahan Amin Baco, now touted to be one of several candidates vying for IS regional leadership after the death of its emir, Isnilon Hapilon.

Macleod believes Malaysian militants fighting in southern Philippines, like their counterparts in the Middle East, could also be unwilling to return home.

“Given the relative lawlessness in the southern Philippines, any remaining Malaysian fighters in Marawi are likely to stay put there, safe in the knowledge that their chances of capture are vastly reduced there,” Macleod told FMT.

“As stated in my report, due to the restructuring of the Southeast Asian IS network, Malaysia is likely to be deemed less important a target, relative to the Philippines, for a potential attack.

“IS fighters will be wary of Malaysian counter-terrorism efforts whereas the complex cultural, political and religious fault lines in Mindanao and the southern Philippines will make the region more accommodating and give them more cover.”