PETALING JAYA: Local terror cells rely on documents such as “militant handbooks” translated from Arabic and English for guidance, says terrorism expert Ahmad El-Muhammady.
The International Islamic University of Malaysia (IIUM) lecturer works closely with Malaysian police in militant research and rehabilitation programmes. He has also conducted interviews with terrorists for his studies.
Ahmad explained that while he has not yet met any detained Malaysian militants who have utilised a newly surfaced "lone wolf militant guidebook”, he has, however, come across a similar manual that has been translated into Bahasa Indonesia.
The new guidebook is a 62-page PDF file which provides militant strategies for lone wolf attackers and small terror cells based on lectures by a senior Al-Qaeda leader.
It written by unnamed authors who translated the lectures from Arabic to English.
Because pro-terrorism books are not available in Malaysia, local militants look to manuals in Bahasa Indonesia for reference.
“Many Arabic and English documents have been translated to Indonesian and they contain information on how to evade detection, how to make explosives, counter intelligence tactics and how to launch surprise attacks,” he said.
“If the militants have a copy of this guidebook, they would have an Indonesian translation in no time,” he said.
Ahmad explained that it doesn’t matter which terrorist organisation the publishers come from – Al Qaeda or the Islamic State (IS) terror group – as what matters is the techniques they are teaching. He added that sometimes, the different groups borrow techniques from one another.
“They (potential militants) have definitely been influenced by such documents. These documents are published for individuals who cannot travel to Syria and Iraq and the IS have also said that militants can carry out operations on their native soil instead,” he added.
According to Ahmad, even if terrorists themselves do not find such documents online, their facilitators are very informed and keep up to date with developments in Syria and Iraq. The facilitators will be the ones keeping a lookout for militant manuals.
Ahmad added that it will be very difficult to detect militants in Malaysia should they master the art of “camouflage”.
Some of the militants have even been instructed by their facilitators to keep a low profile when attempting to go overseas to carry out what the believe to be jihad.
“They do not display that they are outwardly religious. They have been briefed by their leaders and facilitators in Malaysia and overseas to tone down their Islamic symbols,” he said.
“One Malaysian girl who was planning to go to Syria was told by her facilitator not to wear Islamic clothes and to discard her ‘tudung’ (headscarf) while travelling. Her facilitator had informed her that dressing like that was permissible as the situation was ‘darurat’ (an emergency),” he said.
Turkey is seen as a transit point for would-be militants from across the world before moving in to Syria or Iraq.
Other suggested attire are jeans, boots and caps instead of traditional Islamic clothes to avoid detection.
Ahmad explained that while some of the recruits have religious backgrounds, others are ordinary youths – some of them dropouts and others without stable jobs – looking for meaning in life.
In the aftermath of the Jakarta attacks, Ahmad believes that militants will not attempt to carry out operations locally, at least not yet, due to Malaysian police having beefed up security and are on high alert.
“I do not think that Malaysian militants will dare stage an operation yet – at least not for the time being. They are aware that security forces have raised the alert to the highest level. But even so, I would not be surprised if something were to happen in Malaysia,” he said.
“This is because the militants have the capability and motivation to carry out their plans. If we have groups in Malaysia that are like those in Jakarta who will heed the call of (IS leader) Abu Bakar Al-Baghdadi to carry out lone wolf attacks on their native soil, it may happen,” he explained.
“I believe that the main obstacle for them to carry our such operations in Malaysia is because our police have extremely good counter-terrorism intelligence,” Ahmad added.
Malaysia was raised twice in the 11th issue of IS’ monthly online magazine, Dabiq. Once for the country’s stance against IS and secondly, when the magazine suggested that homegrown militants target diplomatic missions in Malaysia.
“Having Malaysia’s name in Dabiq means we are already being monitored by them. However, I believe that Malaysia’s counter-terrorism unit is well prepared for any possible scenario,” Ahmad said.
Militants instructed to blend in