Overview: Although there were no ISIS-affiliated attacks in Malaysia in 2019, the country remained a source, a transit point, and, to a lesser extent, destination country for terrorist groups including ISIS, Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), al-Qa’ida, and Jemaah Islamiyah. Suspected ISIS supporters deported from Turkey and individuals linked to ISIS or ASG planning to travel to the southern Philippines used Malaysia as a transit point. Malaysia monitored, arrested, deported, and tried suspected supporters of terrorist groups. Malaysia also cooperated with the United States and others to increase border security capacity at airports and in the Sulu Sea, CT messaging on social media, and to improve terrorist prosecutions. Malaysia is a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.
2019 Terrorist Incidents: While no ISIS-affiliated attacks were carried out in 2019, Malaysia remained a transit point and hub for kidnap-for-ransom activities perpetrated by other terrorist networks. On June 18, 10 fishermen were kidnapped off the coast of Lahad Datu in Sabah state by ASG militants. The victims were later rescued and released without harm. On September 4, two armed men believed to be on the lookout for potential kidnap victims or with plans to commit violent acts were killed by local police in Sabah waters. The Eastern Sabah Security Command (known as ESSCOM) announced the security commission was on “high-alert” following the September 23 kidnapping of three Indonesian fishermen and learning that ASG insurgents planned to carry out raids for ransom victims in the East Sabah area.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: The Ministry of Home Affairs (MOHA) conducted an internal review of the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (SOSMA) to consider amending provisions assessed to be draconian or against human rights, according to media reports. The MOHA minister said Malaysian security agencies engaged with civil society organizations, including the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, to receive input on the law. Malaysian officials contend that SOSMA remains a critical element to fight terrorism and proposed reducing the allowed detention without charge time from 28 to 14 days. However, no legislative amendments to SOSMA or security related laws – such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), the Sedition Act, or the Prevention of Crime Act – were announced by year’s end.
The Royal Malaysia Police (RMP) Special Branch Counterterrorism Unit has the lead CT law enforcement role. This unit identifies terrorist threats and reported several arrests during the year to prevent planned terrorist attacks. In March, RMP reported the arrests of nine suspects, including six Egyptians and two Tunisians, for suspicion of plans to launch large scale attacks in several countries. The RMP Special Branch Department made the arrests after receiving a tip from intelligence agencies about the presence of suspected terrorist fighters in Kuala Lumpur, Selangor and Sarawak. From July to September, law enforcement reported the arrest of 16 suspects nationwide, which included 12 Indonesians, three Malaysians, and an Indian. The suspects were accused of attempting to establish an ISIS cell in Malaysia and plan attacks in Malaysia and Indonesia. In May, RMP Special Branch announced they foiled a wave of large-scale terror attacks and assassinations plotted by an ISIS-linked cell during the first week of Ramadan. Four suspects were arrested during a sting operation on suspicion of planning attacks against religious sites and entertainment venues, the leader of which was charged with terrorism-related offenses.
Convicted Malaysian terrorist Yazid Sufaat, who was linked to the September 11, 2001, attack in the United States, was released from prison on November 20, 2019. Sufaat has served three separate prison sentences since 2001. In 2017, he was detained under POTA law and released following the expiration of his two-year detention without trial. RMP reports that Sufaat is under strict surveillance; he must wear an electronic monitoring device and report to the police twice a week.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Malaysia is a member of FATF and APG. Malaysia’s FIU, Financial Intelligence Unit – Malaysia, is a member of the Egmont Group. In October, the government approved legislation establishing the National Anti-Financial Crime Centre (NAFCC) to coordinate financial crime investigations. The NAFCC is intended to direct efforts among Malaysia’s enforcement agencies in foreign and domestic financial crime investigations. The NAFCC will house a centralized financial crime data system and include an executive committee that will approve and monitor integrated operations. On November 5, the government launched the MyFINet initiative involving Bank Negara Malaysia, the Royal Malaysian Police, the Royal Malaysian Customs Department, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, the Securities Commission Malaysia, and 18 reporting institutions. The purpose of MyFINet is to facilitate financial intelligence sharing between law enforcement agencies and reporting institutions to better detect and disrupt terrorism financing and financial crimes.
Countering Violent Extremism: In 2019, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Southeast Asia Regional Center for Counter-Terrorism (SEARCCT) launched a number of CVE initiatives, which included counter-messaging programs shared through social media and radio as well as onsite workshops targeting youth. Within the year, SEARCCT organized a nationwide youth program on “Building Community Resilience” and partnered with Deakin University in Australia to strengthen engagement between government and civil society organizations across Southeast Asia. SEARCCT also collaborated with the Ministry of Home Affairs Prison Department to produce a series of interviews with former and current detainees charged with terrorism-related offenses to raise awareness on recruitment practices and narratives of terrorist organizations.
International and Regional Cooperation: Malaysia continued to support CT efforts in regional and multilateral organizations. The Government of Malaysia hosted the May 2019 Global Counterterrorism Workshop under the Terrorist Travel Initiative and the first ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) workshop on aviation security and UNSCR 2396 in July 2019. Malaysian officials participated in numerous CT events hosted by the UN, the Global Counterterrorism Forum, ASEAN, the ASEAN ARF, APEC, and the East Asia Summit.