Officials say they are cracking down against citizens sympathetic to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant ( ISIL ) and inclined to import the group's vision of a Malaysian caliphate.
Malaysia strongly condemned terrorism perpetrated by ISIL and authorities were conducting operations to arrest Malaysians or resident foreigners suspected of supporting ISIL and planning terrorist acts, Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said in a letter to the editor published Monday (August 25th) in Malaysiakini.
"As a peace-loving country that practices moderation, we do not condone all forms of terrorism or extremism by any party, including its own nationals," he wrote.
He added officials believe in a multifaceted approach combating terrorism by addressing underlying contributing factors that support it and by strict and firm enforcement. Officials will also adopt and implement legislative measures and enhance capacity of law enforcement agencies and inter-agency co-operation.
"There is a need to undertake developmental efforts that would address social and economic needs, which is a dominant factor for people engaging in terrorism. Winning the hearts and minds of the people is more effective than all other measures combined."
Countering the threat
The foreign minister's letter also noted an August 19th AFP interview with Ayob Khan Myudin , deputy chief of the Malaysian police counter-terrorism division, revealing it foiled a planned bombing wave by ISIL-inspired extremists. Between April and June, 19 suspected militants were arrested.
"This is crucial for our government. It is not easy to track them since most of them are using humanitarian reasons (as a basis) for entering Syria," Ayob told Khabar Southeast Asia. "They are targeting several places like pubs and discoes in Malaysia. Militants are also engaged in campaigns of violence and armed struggle as martyrs."
The 19 suspects – including two housewives – envisioned establishing a regional caliphate.
Ayob said giving an exact number of Malaysian jihadists in Syria and Iraq was difficult, because jihadists were not directly entering either.
"So far, we have identified 40 Malaysians waging jihad in Syria. The number can be more," he said.The foreign ministry is seeking to verify media reports that Malaysian jihadist Mat Soh, alias Abu Turab, died August 20th in Syria.
The Malaysian government has done much to safeguard the country from the threat posed by ISIL and its sympathisers in Southeast Asia, said terrorism expert Elina Noor of the Institute of Strategic and International Studies in Kuala Lumpur.
"Religious leaders, the government, family, and community all have their own role for preventing more Malaysians from becoming involved in militancy," she told Khabar. "They are the closest to the community."