Uncertainly Surrounds New Militant Group in Malaysia

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 2 Issue: 10

Some confusion surrounded the announcement on May 23 that the Malaysian government had uncovered the existence of new militant group, distinct, but linked to the regional extremist group Jemaah Islamiyah.

According to a report at the time in the Malaysian daily The Star, Deputy Internal Security Minister Noh Omar, indicated that the size and reach of the militant group was being investigated. A subsequent announcement denied the media reports and insisted that the newly uncovered group was purely theologically deviant and, in contradiction to what the media purported to quote him as saying, was unconnected to the Jemaah Islamiyah and the Kumpulan Militan Malaysia (Malaysian Militant Group), radical Islamic movements both accused of plotting to overthrow the government [https://thestar.com.my].

The sensitivity to Islamist militant activity in Malaysia stems from its position between Muslim dominated Indonesia and the troubled southern states of Thailand. Malaysia has come in for some criticism regionally, with reports aired by the Malaysian press that attacks in southern Thailand have been enabled partly by the authorities in Malaysia turning a blind eye to movements of militants across the border. Last month the Thai News Agency reported that Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister Chidchai Vanasatidya, asked for and received assurances from the Malaysian government that it does not facilitate cross-border movements of insurgents [https://etna.mcot.net].

In all, Minister Noh Omar affirmed that up to 24 groups spreading ‘deviant’ Islamic teachings were under observation, and that action could be taken against these groups if their “deviant teachings … were a danger to society.” To date Malaysia has detained over 90 Islamic militant suspects, and under the Internal Security Act is still detaining some 75 [https://thestar.com.my]. The developments appear to contradict the message put out by the government of a country immune to Islamist militancy. According to a report in the Malaysian News Agency [www.bernama.com], Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi insisted during a recent meeting with former Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, that “there was no danger of Malaysia becoming an extremist Islamic state.” In a country where almost half the 25 million population are non-Muslim there are obvious electoral limitations to the reach of hardline Islamist groups. However, the conservative pressures are gaining, as demonstrated by Prime Minister Abdullah’s refusal to lift calls for recent Islamic morality laws to be rescinded, while a call for the promotion of ‘progressive Islam’ has come under criticism from hardliners as effectively amounting to a new religion.

Concerns over Malaysia come at a time of increasing risk in the region, with a new travel advisory issued on May 17 by the U.S. government against the danger of kidnapping in the coastal areas of Malaysia’s eastern Sabah state. This area has been the arena of several piracy and kidnapping incidents, most recently this past March with some of the incidents attributed to the activities of the southern Philippines kidnap-for-ransom group Abu Sayyaf. The May 17 statement also warned U.S. citizens against traveling overland from Malaysia into Thailand due to the problems of the southernmost provinces.