Malaysia’s main terror threat comes from within and politicians are largely responsible, says a report in the South China Morning Post (SCMP). It adds that PAS’ praise of the Taliban may just have invited unwanted attention from the Isis-K terror group.

The report which quotes security analysts also says there is fear that Malaysia, unlike Indonesia, may overreact and not be able to effectively handle any major terror incident that causes mass deaths.

The report quotes a senior Malaysian counterterrorism official as saying that terrorism-related danger to Malaysia will come from religious and ethnically motivated violent extremism by locals, unlike in Indonesia and elsewhere in the region where groups linked to al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS) pose the gravest danger.

The SCMP report on the most serious threats faced 20 years after Sept 11 in the region noted that Malaysia had a major problem due to racial and religious sensitivities stoked by politicians.

“The biggest terror threat in Malaysia can be categorised under religious and ethnically motivated violent extremism which eventually sparks ethno-nationalistic division that may lead to violent incidents,” the unnamed counterterrorism official was quoted as saying.

It is not recommended for political leaders to play to the gallery along religious and ethnic lines, even if that is what their constituents want so much to listen to,” he added.

The report said the echo chamber effect created by Malaysian politicians radicalised their audience and created more far-right extremists. This did not augur well for the multireligious and multiracial country, he said, adding: “If left untreated, this will be cancerous to national unity and much-needed nation-building in Malaysia.”

The SCMP report said the security analysts community was also concerned about Malaysia being at risk of attacks from the IS.

It quoted Mohamed Faizal, a visiting fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, as saying the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan, which won praise from PAS, had exposed Malaysia to the IS as the terror group was a sworn enemy of the Taliban.

He said PAS’ “open support” for the Taliban would not have gone unnoticed by Islamic State Khorasan or Isis-K. This might drag Malaysia unnecessarily into a fight between the Taliban and Isis-K, he said.

The SCMP report noted that the issues of race and religion had been exploited by militant groups from al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiah (JI) to IS affiliates in Malaysia, Indonesia, and southern Philippines, to radicalise and recruit disaffected individuals.

Zachary Abuza, professor of Southeast Asia studies at the Washington-based National War College, was quoted as saying that terrorist groups were effective at exploiting existing societal and sectarian divisions. “They create crises, and when the state fails to act, they can then justify their vigilante actions in the name of defending the religion,” Abuza said.

Saying these schisms were often created by politicians, government policies and laws, Abuza noted that there were a host of organisations in Indonesia and Malaysia which engaged in provocative and highly divisive practices.

He warned of overreacting, like the US, when terrorist groups carried out actions aimed at provoking a heavy-handed response from the state.

He praised Indonesia for maintaining its balance in dealing with terrorist-related crises such as the 2002 Bali bombings which killed 202 people.

“Indonesia deserves a tonne of credit for not overreacting since 2002. They have shown considerable restraint, knowing that any overreaction plays into the hands of militants.”

Abuza, however, was concerned that any such incident would provoke an overreaction from the Malaysian authorities. While Malaysia has been spared most terrorist attacks, he said any successful mass casualty attack here, “which would invariably be designed to provoke ethnic tensions”, might spark an over-the-top response.

The analysts told SCMP they expected a resurgent JI to be the biggest terror threat in Indonesia.

The report quoted Sofyan Tsauri, a former senior member of al-Qaeda Southeast Asia, as saying JI was more dangerous than Indonesian pro-IS groups as it was well organised, was highly adaptable and blended easily into society.

Meanwhile Abuza said the southern Philippines remained the weak link to regional security in Southeast Asia.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was published by Free Malaysia Today on 23rd September 2021.

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Malaysia’s terror threat is a cancer from within, PAS praise for Taliban a big mistake, says SCMP