Malaysia cannot take threats of terrorism lightly

Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu deserves kudos for tabling a comprehensive white paper in Parliament recently to chart Malaysia’s defence plans for the next 10 years, citing, among others, the increasing terrorism threats to Southeast Asian countries.

The right to life is the most basic human right. Unfortunately, terrorism the world over has led to the loss of innocent lives, the destruction of properties and even the destruction of nations. For the extremists, their aberrant ideology has become the centre of their world.

The IS ideology is spilling over from Iraq and Syria into Southeast Asia.

After the death of its leader Al-Baghdadi in October 2019, it cannot be assumed that the threat from the Islamic state will be reduced. His death will only be a short-term impediment for the IS network.

Given that IS claimed Baghdadi was descended from the Prophet, to build his image, it is quite possible the group may name a Caliph with similar credentials.

Going by past history, the demise of the leader will see a replacement. A new leader will be chosen, to whom all the extremists and supporters will readily offer allegiance.

Lack of resources and support in Iraq and Syria is hindering the ability to totally defeat IS. Over 25,000 IS cadres have survived and many foreign fighters have escaped the Iraq-Syria stage. Their decentralised regions – including West Africa, Egypt (Sinai), Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan, the Philippines and Indonesia – have become more active and are flaunting their successes on social media.

IS has attracted foreign fighters from South and Southeast Asia: Pakistani, Afghanistan, Indonesian, the Maldives, Bangladesh, and Malaysia.

As reported, there have been fighters returning to Southeast Asia and forging links with local terrorists. This is a perilous trend as it will pose further threats to this region. IS is bound to exploit its supporters’ sentiments to gain traction in this region.

The Malaysian authorities are increasingly apprehensive that the decentralisation of IS networks in neighbouring countries will spread to our nation.

Malaysian police have thwarted several terrorists’ plots to attack the country since the declaration of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in 2014. They have also arrested more than 300 individuals for suspected links to the IS group and have shut down numerous pro-IS websites.

The police have also arrested several suspected militants who had plans to carry out bomb attacks across the region and who had allegedly made threats against prominent politicians and leaders.

The country has always been on high alert since multiple terrorist attacks and bombings were carried out in neighbouring Indonesia in the recent past that killed many innocent lives.

However, the government’s efforts have not been very successful in preventing a significant number of Malaysians from going to fight for IS in countries such as the Philippines, Syria and Iraq.

Some local supporters are believed to have travelled to Syria and Iraq and Afghanistan to join IS and this may create the probability for more recruitment as well as attacks on Malaysian soil or interests. Suspects have made threats online to carry out attacks across Southeast Asia, and there are others who had donated money to IS militants.

Some have also threatened on Facebook to carry out bomb attacks in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines in the name of IS.

The country cannot be unconcerned when it comes to threats from IS or any other terrorist organisation. Even religious figures and preachers from overseas need to be screened for their background before being allowed to enter the country, as they could be IS sympathisers who are susceptible to extremism and who are also capable of influencing the vulnerable locals to take up arms or wage wars against the government or other citizens.

The country needs peace, non-violence and political stability. As such, threats of terrorism and extremism cannot be taken lightly. It has to be rooted out at all costs.

Let me remind everyone that the pointless politics of race and religion that is going on unrelentingly in the country can be a fertile ground for extremist elements to exploit. There can always be some terrorist sympathisers spreading their narratives and tentacles in the guise of politics and social activities which could be detrimental to the country’s security.

Moaz Nair is an FMT reader.

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.