PETALING JAYA: Islamic State (IS) sympathisers numbering in the thousands pose a security threat to Malaysia, a special report by a Singapore-based terrorism research centre revealed recently.
The journal “Counter Terrorist Trends and Analyses”, published by the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR), states there are “still thousands of online IS sympathisers and their activities are a concern”.
It says the security threat that Malaysia faces from terrorism originates from three major groups.
“The first group consists of locals as well as Malaysian foreign fighters who carry out acts of violence.
“The second group consists of supporters of terrorist groups and their fighters.
“The third group represents terrorist sympathisers, who constitute an online community that has allowed IS to spread their propaganda and gain new recruits and supporters.”
The journal says IS will move towards a “virtual caliphate” as it loses its strongholds in Iraq and Syria, adding that there are two meanings behind this term.
The first meaning refers to a functioning organisation existing on computer servers that carries out functions traditionally held by a state.
“These include creating training camps, mapping out a state‘s constitution and drafting tax laws.”
The second meaning of “virtual caliphate” refers to that of an imagined community of terrorist sympathisers.
“Through IS propaganda, they are convinced of the existence and legitimacy of the so-called caliphate and its actions, and believe that whatever they do to build this community and sustain it amounts to real support of the caliphate,” says the journal.
It pointed out that in 2015, Malaysia reported that 75% of IS supporters were radicalised online.
Surrounded by centres of conflict
According to the publication, Malaysia also sits in a region with three active centres of terrorism – Marawi in the Philippines, Arakan in Myanmar and the southern provinces of Thailand.
“Malaysia has to take precautions due to its proximity to the three conflict zones,” Muhammad Haziq Jani, a research analyst at ICPVTR, told FMT.
“The terrorist groups in Myanmar, Philippines, and southern Thailand are making use of Malaysia as a recruitment ground, a planning centre, a way to smuggle weapons and to get in contact with one another.”
Haziq, one of the authors of the journal, said terrorist groups make use of social media and messaging to recruit supporters and sympathisers to help them, as well as fighters to join them.
“Hence, Malaysia has an important role to play in curbing regional terrorism and online radicalisation,” he said.
“Essentially, Malaysia needs to do more than strategic counter-messaging. It needs the community to get involved.”
A targeted response
The journal also suggests Malaysia should prepare itself for when IS and other terrorist groups face territorial defeat.
“Malaysia, as well as other countries in the region, might not have time to wait for the various institutions of counter-messaging to come to fruition or reach their optimum level.
“These counter-radicalisation or counter-violent extremism institutions such as the Regional Digital Counter-Messaging Communication Centre (RDC3) are still relevant and important for the broader audiences who have yet to be inducted into the terrorist and extremist milieu.
“However, the niche audiences synced with terrorist propaganda may need targeted efforts, such as rehabilitation and counselling, to bring them back into the fold of society before they pursue acts of violence and other criminal activities.
“Malaysia could consider community-based approaches to identifying at-risk individuals and provide them with the help they need,” the journal says.
The journal also advises Malaysians to help look out for their family members and friends while spending time online.
It says radicalised individuals who may not respond well to government initiatives may be more receptive towards counter-messaging “when the hands of the state they have learned to hate is out of the picture”.