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Islamic State Plot in Malaysia Underlines Growing Threat

Publisher Jamestown Foundation
Author James Brandon
Publication Date 22 January 2016
Citation / Document Symbol Terrorism Monitor Volume: 14 Issue: 2
Cite as Jamestown Foundation, Islamic State Plot in Malaysia Underlines Growing Threat, 22 January 2016, Terrorism Monitor Volume: 14 Issue: 2, available at: [accessed 27 May 2023]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Link to original story on Jamestown website

On January 15, the Malaysian police arrested a 28-year old man in the capital of Kuala Lumpur on suspicion of planning to carry out a suicide bomb attack in the city. The head of the country's police force, Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar, said that the individual had "received order from an IS leader in Syria to target Malaysia", referring to the Iraq- and Syria-based Islamic State (IS) militant group (Malay Mail Online, January 16). The man had a knife and Islamic State-related documents on him when he was arrested at a metro station. There was no official statement on the intended target, although local media cited anonymous security sources as saying that he may have planned to target a pub or karaoke bar. The individual is also believed to have been responsible for putting up Islamic State flags in various locations in Peninsula Malaysia, including in Johor Perak Selangor and Terengganu states (Malay Mail Online, January 16; AsiaOne, January 17).

While the incident is one of the clearest indications so far that the Islamic State is seeking to inspire or organize attacks in Malaysia, it also showcases the group's significant support among Malaysian radicals. Just a few days before the arrest, two Malaysian fighter with the Islamic State were reported to have recently carried out suicide bombings. In the first incident, on January 3, 31-year old Syazwan Mohd Salim was one of seven suicide bombers who attempted to attack a police training centre in Iraq at Speicher military base, located north of the capital Baghdad. Reports suggested that the Malaysian shot before he could detonate himself (New Straits Times, January 11). In the second incident, 26-year old Mohammed Amirul Ahmad Rahim carried out a suicide car-bombing at Ain Issa near the Islamic State capital of Raqqa on December 29 during a simultaneous Islamic State attack on the 44th Syrian Democratic Forces coalition. As a result, 17 Malaysians are now believed to have died in the last 18 months while actively fighting for the Islamic State, local media reported (Straits Times, January 12). The government is also reported to have arrested 100 radicals seeking to travel to join the Islamic State, and it has also estimated the group has around 50,000 sympathizers in the country. Adding to the complexity, there are also reports that whole Malaysian families have moved to the Islamic State's territories, and Malaysian police have also reported that they believe that eight Malaysian children are being groomed to become fighters for the group (Straits Times, January 12; Straits Times, January 13).

Malaysian government fears have been further heightened by the recent Islamic State-inspired attack in neighboring Indonesia. This attack, which took place on January 14, involved four attackers launching a coordinated gun and bomb attack in the center of the capital, Jakarta. Although the attack only killed four, underlining the limitations of self-radicalized or self-starter militant cells, the incident highlighted the potential for Islamic State actions in the Middle East to nonetheless inspire attacks in Southeast Asia. Although the security services appear to be relatively able to disrupt plots and identify radicals - as demonstrated by the latest arrest - the country appears less able to challenge the Islamic State's viral ideology. For example, in one recent interview, Datuk Othman Mustapha, the director-general of the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (Jakim), which is responsible for the regulation and promotion of Islam in Malaysia, said that the organization was finding it challenging to counter the Islamic State's message, particularly online (Malay Mail, January 15). Such challenges may increase as the organization, which has annual budget of around $300 million, faces sharp funding cuts in the coming year, partly as a result of the state's falling oil revenues (Malaysian Insider, January 15). This, combined with the Islamic State's success in carrying out attacks abroad - as demonstrated by the recent Jakarta and Istanbul attacks - means that Malaysia may see an increase in domestic plots during the coming year.

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