Malaysia now a centre of intrigue, says NYT

NYT report says Hamas sees Malaysia as an ideal place for gaining weapons and expertise. (AFP pic).

PETALING JAYA: The murder of a Palestinian lecturer last week has brought attention to Malaysia’s emergence as “an epicentre of international intrigue” and as a “way station for extremists”, according to a report by the influential New York Times.

The US newspaper said Malaysia had been “a permissive environment for many rogue actors, as long as their focus was not directed within Malaysia,” quoting Zachary Abuza, a professor at the US National War College in Washington who studies Southeast Asian security issues.

Two men on a motorcycle gunned down engineering lecturer Fadi al-Batash early on Saturday in a killing that his family blamed on Israel but which an Israeli minister described was a result of an internal tussle in the Hamas extremist group.

Although Malaysia might seem like an odd place for a battle between Israel and Hamas, the influential US newspaper said Malaysia had “long served as a way station for extremists, including some of the Sept 11 plotters, and is known as a transit hub for illicit goods”.

The report noted that the Malaysian government had for decades been sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, the country had no diplomatic relations with Israel, and Prime Minister Najib Razak had visited Gaza in 2013 at the invitation of Hamas, which governs the territory.

Intelligence officials told the NYT that Hamas, in recent years, had begun seeing Malaysia as an ideal place to incubate its research ambitions to gather weapons and expertise in fighting Israel.

The report said that in 2010, Palestinians sent to Malaysia had obtained training in paragliding as a potential tool for attacks, according to a statement from the Israeli secret service. Malaysian officials denied any involvement in such a plot, the report said.

The Batash murder, in Gombak, outside Kuala Lumpur, was “bringing to light not only the increasing presence of Hamas and other groups in Malaysia, but also Malaysia’s emergence as an epicentre of international intrigue”.

The murder was the second high-profile assassination in Kuala Lumpur in just over a year. Kim Jong Nam, the half brother of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, was killed with poison at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in February 2017. Two women are currently facing trial for the killing.