Militant arrests spark concern in Malaysia

Extremist groups see Malaysia as a desirable location for gaining new recruits, counterterrorism experts warn. The government, however, says it is bolstering efforts to track militant activity.

By Khabar Southeast Asia

November 06, 2012
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With two Malaysian nationals under arrest in Lebanon for alleged links to al-Qaeda, concern is rising over recruitment activities by extremist groups. A regional counterterrorism expert said last week that militant organisations see many advantages in Malaysia when it comes to finding new followers.

  • Malaysian customs deputy director general Matrang Suhaili (centre) and other officials display drugs seized in the port city of Klang in July 2012. Malaysia's Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters last week that the authorities are concerned about terrorist involvement in drug smuggling, human trafficking and other forms of transnational crime. [Saeed Khan/AFP]

    Malaysian customs deputy director general Matrang Suhaili (centre) and other officials display drugs seized in the port city of Klang in July 2012. Malaysia's Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters last week that the authorities are concerned about terrorist involvement in drug smuggling, human trafficking and other forms of transnational crime. [Saeed Khan/AFP]

"Malaysia is seen by the groups as a conduit where recruitment activities can be carried out, and is valued as a centre for co-ordination," a leading Malaysian daily, the Star, quoted Andrin Raj as saying. He is regional director for the International Association for Counterterrorism and Security Professionals.

The reasons, he told the paper, include Malaysia's strategic location and past shortcomings in the control of foreigners entering the Southeast Asian country.

Not only al-Qaeda but other extremist organisations – including Jemaah Islamiyah and Hezbollah – have found Malaysia a fertile ground for attracting followers, who are then sent to other countries for training, Raj said.

"In the past, Malaysian recruits have been trained in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Southern Thailand, Philippines and Indonesia," The Star quoted him as saying.

Lebanese authorities detained Muhamad Razin Sharhan Mustafa Kamal, 21, and Razif Mohd Ariff, 30, last month on suspicion of terrorist activities. On Wednesday (October 31st), they appeared before a military court to face charges.

Both men denied that they were terrorists, saying they were only in Lebanon as visitors. "Both of them told the judge that they were in Lebanon as tourists and had no links to al-Qaeda," their defense attorney, Marwan Sinno, said in comments to New Straits Times.

If the two men are indeed guilty, they may have first established contact with a local outfit known as "Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb", which sends recruits to Yemen to join up with the main al-Qaeda organisation there, Raj said, according to The Star.

Minister: terrorism is a problem with transnational scope

Reacting to the news, Malaysian Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said it was incorrect to view the country as a regional recruitment port. Terrorists, he said, are staging their recruitment drive across the globe and on cyberspace.

"Terrorists don't just come into Malaysia but also travel to Middle Eastern countries. They can be recruited anywhere as a result of today's globalisation and technology," the state news agency Bernama quoted him as saying at a press conference Wednesday.

He said a more serious problem is posed by terrorist involvement in drug smuggling, human trafficking, money laundering and other forms of transnational crime. "This underground economy, these black-market funds from transnational crimes will be too huge to handle if it gets into the hands of terrorists. Then it'll be a war against terrorism," he told reporters.

The government, he said, is responding by stepping up co-operation with international agencies.

Al-Qaeda's digital library shut down

In the wake of the arrests, Malaysian authorities are closely monitoring internet activity by jihadist groups. On Thursday, Channel NewsAsia reported the government has shut down an al-Qaeda-linked web portal that was hosted in the country.

The site, Tawhed.net, is being described as al-Qaeda's largest online library. An Arabic version of the site, not hosted in Malaysia, is reportedly still online.

The two men arrested in Lebanon are thought to have been frequent visitors to militant websites, which feature messages from terrorist leaders such as Ayman al-Zawahiri, as well as images of militant trainees wielding rocket launchers and other weapons at al-Qaeda camps, Channel News Asia said.

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