Malaysia football kicks off under heightened security after attacks

Tight security: Members of the Royal Malaysia Police look on during the Malaysia Super League match between Kedah and Police in Kuala Lumpur. - AFP

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's premier football league kicked off Saturday under the shadow of heightened security after a series of attacks against players shocked the country and forced the cancellation of the season opener.

An acid attack last week left star winger Faisal Halim in critical condition, just days after his Malaysia teammate Akhyar Rashid was injured in a robbery outside his home.

In a third incident on Tuesday, former Malaysia skipper Safiq Rahim escaped unharmed after he was threatened with a hammer and his car windscreen was smashed by two assailants.

But football authorities said Malaysia Super League games would go ahead, starting with Police against Kedah on Saturday just north of the capital Kuala Lumpur.

The football association said players should hire bodyguards while reigning champions Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) ramped up security for its squad after its season-opener was cancelled.

Hundreds of fans turned out Saturday for the Police versus Kedah match, some holding up banners in support of the attacked players. Police numbers were increased around the stadium and officers were armed with pistols.

"We are not afraid and will not allow the series of attacks on football players to rattle our enthusiasm for this great sport," said 38-year-old utility worker and Kedah fan Syakirin Said.

"Look around, the police presence is strong. If we unite, we can fight back against these ugly perpetrators."

The game ended without incident, with Kedah winning 1-0 after a first-minute goal from striker Syafiq Ahmad.

Local district deputy police chief Abang Kaderi Abang Wasli told AFP security was doubled at the stadium with about 60 officers on site, including some plain-clothes officers inside the stadium.

"Fans should feel safe to come and watch the match, don't be afraid," he said, adding that police would "frisk anyone that looks suspicious".

After the match Police manager P. Maniam said he was happy the tightened security ensured players and fans remained safe.

"I hope and pray no attacks on players happen from now on," he said.

But another fan Shah Putera, 42, said every player should remain vigilant.

"Every national player and players from any state should be careful. We don't know what kind of people are behind us despite us being good people," he said.

The scheduled opener between two of Malaysia's top football clubs, JDT and Selangor, was called off after the latter cited "a series of criminal incidents and recent threats".

The motive for the attacks is yet to be determined and one suspect remains under arrest for questioning in connection with the acid attack on Selangor and Malaysia winger Faisal.

The 26-year-old nicknamed "Mickey" was left with fourth-degree burns in intensive care, with his motion and speech affected after the attack last week at a shopping mall outside the capital.

Officials said he was responding well after undergoing skin allograft surgery.

Manchester United players Alejandro Garnacho and Andre Onana sent Faisal their support in a video message.

"We know it is a tough moment for you. Stay strong, we are with you. I am talking also on behalf of all my teammates. Keep fighting," Onana said in an Instagram video posted by Selangor.

Syakirin, the Kedah fan, called on other supporters to carry on watching their teams so as not to let the attackers win after the assaults disrupted the league.

"I appeal to all football fans in Malaysia: let's unite and show solidarity with the players to reject violence," he said. - AFP

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