Overview: Malaysia sustained counterterrorism efforts to monitor, arrest, deport, and prosecute suspected supporters of terrorist groups. Malaysian law enforcement cooperated with the United States and regional partners to increase border security at ports of entry to detect and disrupt terrorist transit and deny safe haven for terrorist networks. Malaysia is a member of the GCTF and promotes a whole-of-government approach to counter recruitment and disinformation from violent extremist groups.
2021 Terrorist Incidents: There were no terrorist attacks in Malaysia in 2021, but the country remained a transit point and, to a lesser extent, a destination country for members of terrorist groups, including ISIS, Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), and al-Qa’ida. On May 8, Malaysian authorities reported the arrest and deportation of eight suspected Abu Sayyaf members from the Philippines who were reportedly planning kidnap-for-ransom activities in Sabah, a northern province in East Malaysia. Law enforcement also reported the subsequent deportation of seven suspected ASG members and the killing of two suspected ASG subleaders on May 18, who allegedly aimed to carry out kidnapping activities to fund ASG operations in the southern Philippines. The Eastern Sabah Security Command maintained its “heightened alert” status for the East Sabah area and increased maritime patrols to safeguard against kidnappings and cross border threats.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: The Malaysian government did not make any changes to its security related laws, including the Security Offense Special Measures Act, the Prevention Against Terrorism Act, or the Sedition Act. Human rights organizations again advocated for a repeal of the laws, citing concerns that provisions of the law that allow detention without trial were not in line with international norms.
The Royal Malaysia Police (RMP) Special Branch Counterterrorism Unit has the lead counterterrorism law enforcement role. There were no media reports of prosecution or detention of terrorism-related suspects. Authorities stated that border closures and restricted in-country movements during the COVID-19 pandemic limited transit of terrorist networks, leading to a declining trend of arrests. Officials stated that terrorist transit through sea routes and porous borders remained a concern in Malaysia.
Malaysian authorities reported one Malaysian national repatriated from Syria in 2021. The government has reportedly repatriated 17 terrorist fighters to Malaysia from Syria and Iraq to date. The returnees include 13 adults and four children, with eight of the adults serving criminal sentences, according to media reports. Those released were admitted to a rehabilitation program administered by the government. The Malaysian government has allowed its citizens to return, provided they comply with checks, enforcement, and a government-run rehabilitation program. Malaysia has reportedly worked with other countries to facilitate its repatriations and estimates that 56 fighters and their families remain in the Middle East.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Malaysia is a member of Financial Action Task Force and the Asia Pacific Group on Money Laundering. Malaysia’s Financial Intelligence and Enforcement Division is a member of the Egmont Group. In December, Malaysia’s central bank (Bank Negara Malaysia, or BNM) announced preliminary findings from the National Risk Assessment 2020 (NRA 2020), prepared by the National Coordination Committee to Counter Money Laundering. The NRA 2020 identified fraud, illicit drugs trafficking, corruption, bribery, organized crime, and smuggling as crimes posing the highest risk of money laundering activity in Malaysia. The NRA 2020 also identified environmental crimes (e.g., wildlife trafficking, illegal mining) and cyber-enabled extortion as posing an “elevated risk” for money-laundering activities. BNM reported in December that the Malaysian Financial Intelligence Network, established in 2019 to facilitate information sharing between financial institutions and law enforcement agencies, has processed 44 cases related to terrorism financing, proliferation financing, corruption, and securities offenses to date.
Countering Violent Extremism: In 2021, the Southeast Asia Regional Center for Counterterrorism (SEARCCT) actively promoted a whole-of-society approach in preventing and countering violent extremism. These efforts included capacity building workshops with media professionals and civil society organizations to enhance their potential to analyze and report on terrorism trends and contribute to CVE efforts. SEARCCT also initiated its own podcast on counterterrorism narratives to encourage youth engagement. Episodes have been broadcast in both Malay and English. On regional cooperation, SEARCCT hosted training programs on border protection against terrorism in partnership with the Australian government and held advanced courses on open-source intelligence in collaboration with the United Nations Counter-
Terrorism Centre and Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate. As part of the annual Malaysian Technical Cooperation Program, SEARCCT organized an online seminar on youth and terrorism for participants of 13 countries. The center also hosted other fora and webinars on contemporary issues such as terrorism financing.
International and Regional Cooperation: Malaysia continued to support counterterrorism efforts in regional and multilateral organizations. Malaysian officials participated in numerous counterterrorism events hosted by the United Nations, the Global Counterterrorism Forum, ASEAN, the ASEAN Regional Forum, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, and the East Asia Summit.