Along The Watchtower

Published: Wednesday February 25, 2015 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Wednesday February 25, 2015 MYT 7:47:30 AM

Countering the threat of IS

THE arrest of a 14-year-old girl who was about to fly to Egypt en route to Syria to join Islamic State (IS) militants last week has confirmed fears that Malaysia is facing an uphill battle against terrorism.

The recruitment of the child has brought home the stark and scary reality that IS has succeeded in spreading its noxious ideology among the younger generation of Muslims in the country.

If she had boarded the Cairo-bound flight, married a 22-year-old Malaysian student there as planned and travelled to Syria via Turkey with him, she would have been the eighth and youngest Malaysian female to join the ranks of IS.

Before the arrest of the teenager from Muar, Johor, police had detained seven women who were trying to join the militants but seven others, all in their 20s, managed to make it to Syria.

As for Malaysian men fighting under IS in Syria, the exact number is not known but as of December last year, it was believed to be around 50. Four others were reportedly killed earlier.

Ahmad Tarmimi Marzuki, a former factory worker, holds the dubious honour of being the country’s first suicide bomber for IS.

The 27-year-old blew himself up along with 25 elite soldiers at Iraqi army headquarters on May 26 last year after driving a vehicle laden with explosives.

About the same time in Malaysia, there were arrests over a plot by IS-inspired local militants to attack pubs, clubs and a brewery. Out of the 19 nabbed, seven were subsequently charged under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act, or Sosma.

The alarming rise in involvement of Malaysians with IS led to the Government tabling a White Paper in the Dewan Rakyat in November.

The Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said a new anti-terrorism law would enable the Government to deal with the spread of IS terror activities, noting that many other countries had also introduced or improved anti-terrorism laws to face the threat.

The White Paper also included a proposal to strengthen existing security laws, such as the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma), the Prevention of Crime Act and the Penal Code.

But more cases of Malaysians being involved with IS were uncovered, even as the Dewan Rakyat unanimously approved the White Paper.

Police arrested three men, two of them civil servants who had been arranging for Malaysians and Indonesians to go to Syria and channelling funds to them. The third was a former fighter who had recently returned to Malaysia from Syria.

The proposed new anti-terrorism Bill has since been drafted and is expected to be tabled during the next session of Parliament in March.

The new law is expected to include strong preventive measures and be tougher than Sosma, which allows for suspects to be remanded by police for up to 28 days before being charged.

Would it amount to a return of the dreaded Internal Security Act (ISA), abolished in 2011? We sure hope not.

In any case, laws alone, irrespective of whether they are focused on preventive or punitive actions, would not be enough to wrestle with the scourge of terrorism.

A key area where Malaysia is losing the fight against the purveyors of militant ideology is cyberspace, where the IS has been actively persuading students to join its cause.

IS seems to have penetrated our universities too, based on last week’s arrest of two students over a threat to attack courthouses on Chinese New Year Eve to express dissatisfaction with the Malaysian judiciary.

The students from Universiti Sains Malaysia and Universiti Selangor are believed to be involved in the posting of a YouTube video clip which featured four masked men standing in front of what looked like Molotov cocktails with a Malaysian flag in the background.

As Senior Asst Comm Datuk Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay of the police Special Branch’s counter terrorism division has stressed, the authorities must vigorously prevent IS from spreading its influence, especially over social media networks.

In an interview with Bernama, he said the strength of IS came from its mastery of the social media.

Calling for the involvement of all government agencies in a concerted effort to counter IS’ influence on the younder generation, SAC Ayob Khan suggested the creation of a website where questions about the militant group could be answered.

Religious authorities, he said, could play an important role by correcting misunderstandings immediately online, instead of just giving public lectures via television and sermons.“The time has come for such engagement, including with the media, to educate the public on the true meaning of jihad (strife),” he said, stressing that it was not just Malaysia but the whole world that was faced with the issue.

Even Maj Gen Michael Nagata, United States president Barack Obama’s top Special Forces commander in the Middle East, appears to be stumped by the lure of IS.

“There is a magnetic attraction to IS that is bringing in resources, talent, weapons, etc, to thicken, harden, embolden IS in ways that are very alarming.”

Like most US military strategists, Nagata appears to have forgotten the covert origins of the ruthless militants.

Retired US Lt Gen Tom McInerney admitted in September last year that it was the US which helped build IS by backing the “wrong people and not in the right part of the Free Syrian Army”.

The situation, meanwhile, continues to look bleak.

As Nagata himself has confessed: “We do not understand the movement, and until we do, we are not going to defeat it.”

> Associate Editor M. Veera Pandiyan likes this quote by Sun Tzu: The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.

Tags / Keywords: Opinion, Columnists, M Veera Pandiyan

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