Radicalization and Foreign Fighters


Radicalization and Recruitment

Currently reported to be inactive, Kumpulan Mujahidin Malaysia (KMM) aspired to create an Islamic state comprising of Malaysia, Indonesia, and the southern Philippines. KMM’s violent activities included trying to overthrow the Malaysian government, assassinating politicians, and trying to kill U.S. Navy personnel stationed in Kelang and Lumut Port. To radicalize and recruit members, KMM adopted techniques similar to those of Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiyah (JI)—namely, using personal networks and in-person meetings. KMM primarily recruited at Malaysian religious schools. Such schools are no longer a major recruitment hub since law enforcement authorities have increased oversight and mosques are increasingly state-controlled. (Sources: SEARCCTTRACSEARCCTMalay Mail OnlineMalay Mail OnlineMohd Mizan AslamTodayOnline)

ISIS primarily uses the Internet to reach Malaysians. According to the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Counter-Terrorism (SEARCCT), ISIS’s radicalization and recruitment in Malaysia has been facilitated via social media platforms, particularly Facebook. Malaysia has high rates of Internet access, and according to Malaysian Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, social media comprises 75 percent of ISIS recruitment efforts. Malaysians radicalized and recruited by ISIS appear to come from diverse backgrounds. Some are religious, some are secular who sought to redeem themselves for a religious cause, and others joined for thrill-seeking reasons. (Sources: SEARCCTMiddle East InstituteStraits Times)

ISIS primarily uses the Internet to reach Malaysians.

Malaysian police Special Branch’s Counter-Terrorism Division warned in August 2016 that ISIS was getting more aggressive in distributing its propaganda. ISIS has translated articles from its online magazine Dabiq into Malay and posted them to a website called Isdarat Daulah Islamiyah. The terrorist group has also created Malay-language videos, brochures, and tutorials. ISIS has also targeted Malaysians through propaganda videos that call for “lone wolf” attacks and encourage Malaysian sympathizers to join with ISIS supporters in the Philippines. (Sources: The StarIndia ExpressThe Malaysian Insider)

Malaysian youth have attempted to join ISIS abroad or carry out domestic extremist activities. In February 2015, a 14-year-old girl was arrested by Malaysian police before boarding a Cairo-bound flight. She reportedly planned to marry a 22-year-old Malaysian student in Cairo with whom she would travel through Turkey to ISIS-controlled territory in Syria. In January 2016, a 16-year-old boy attempted to launch an ISIS-inspired so-called “lone cub” attack when he tried to kidnap a sales associate at a shopping mall. Authorities believe he had been influenced by Islamic extremism since 2013 and was exposed through email and social media. (Sources: Straits TimesThe Star)

ISIS has even found appeal among the ranks of Malaysia’s security services. In April 2015, Malaysian Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Bakri told parliament that as many as 70 Malaysian military personnel were found to have “joined” ISIS. While Abdul Rahim did not provide specifics on the extent of the alleged involvement, 10 Malaysian military personnel reportedly have died in ISIS suicide attacks. Others, including current Malaysian military enlistees, were being monitored by the military’s intelligence and human resource personnel units. In July 2016, Malaysian Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar said that two low-ranking policemen were among 15 ISIS-linked people arrested. One was suspected of planning a terrorist attack and seeking funds for local ISIS cells. Authorities believed the other helped an ISIS member to avoid arrest. (Sources: International Business TimesThe DiplomatInternational Business TimesNew Straits Times)

As of March 2017, the Malaysian government reportedly was cracking down on persons suspected of promoting ISIS ideology and recruiting new members for ISIS. The Ministry of Home Affairs announced that 234 Malaysians suspected of having links to ISIS had been detained by police as of February 22. Another 95 Malaysians were identified as having joined ISIS in Syria, 30 of whom had died while another eight were arrested upon returning to Malaysia. (Source: Southeast Asia Globe)

Indonesia-based terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) operates regional units, including in Malaysia. The Malaysian unit provides sources of financing for overall JI operations, including terror attacks and training. Specific sources of financing are reported to include money skimmed from charities operating in the region, cash transported from sympathizers, proceeds from weapons smuggling, profits from front companies, and extortion. In addition, JI cells are believed to train in parts of Malaysia, in particular in the state of Sabah on the island of Borneo. Senior JI leaders—such as notable recruiter Mohamed Iqbal Abdurraham—have been arrested in Malaysia. (Sources: Counter Extremism Project, Fletcher School Online Journal for issues related to Southwest Asia and Islamic Civilization)

Foreign Fighters

Malaysian militants joined the fight against Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, eventually returning home to Malaysia. Several returning fighters are believed to have become members of KMM and Darul Islam, a precursor to JI. According to the Royal Malaysian Police (RMP), Malaysian extremists began traveling to Syria to fight with al-Qaeda as early as 2012, but many eventually joined ISIS. (Sources: SEARCCTGlobal SecurityMalay Mail OnlineUSAID)

There are currently two Malaysian nationals being held as high-value detainees at U.S. Naval Base Guantánamo Bay in Cuba: Mohd Farik Bin Amin, also known as Zubair, and Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep, also known as Lillie. By their own account, the two Malaysians traveled to Afghanistan in 2000, where they received militant training and went on to pledge allegiance to al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Following the 9/11 attacks in the United States, JI operations chief and al-Qaeda operative Riduan Isamuddin, also known as Hambali, recruited Bin Amin and Bin Lep to take part in a martyrdom operation. The so-called “West Coast Airliner Plot” was devised by al-Qaeda operative Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) as a “second wave” to follow the 9/11 attacks, but ultimately failed. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, both Bin Lep and Bin Amin served as lieutenants to Hambali, allegedly facilitating the financing of the 2002 nightclub bombings in Bali that killed 202 people, as well as the 2003 JW Marriott Hotel bombing that killed 12 people. The three were arrested in Thailand in August 2003 in a joint U.S.-Thai operation. Bin Amin and Bin Lep have been held at Guantánamo since 2006 and are awaiting trial as of February 2021. (Sources: U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Defense, The WorldNew York Times)

In January 2016, Malaysian, Indonesian, and Filipino ISIS fighters in Syria were featured in an ISIS video that called for “lone wolf” attacks in their respective countries. Malaysian police identified one of the men as Mohd Rafi Udin. Rafi called on ISIS’s supporters in Southeast Asia to back ASG leader Isnilon Hapilon, who was reportedly appointed as an ISIS leader in the Philippines. The one-minute-long video, “Public Message to Malaysia,” also called on al-Shabaab members to pledge allegiance to ISIS’s caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Analysts believe this call in the Malay language hints at the possibility that Malaysian or Malay-speaking fighters are members of the Somalia-based group. (Sources: Straits Times,  Manila TimesSEARCCTFBI)

Two Malaysians—identified as Mohd Faris Anuar and Muhammad Wanndy Mohamed Jedi—were involved in an ISIS beheading video posted in February 2015. Mohd Faris is seen executing a Syrian accused of spying for the Assad regime, while Muhammad Wanndy is believed to have recorded the video. Muhammad Wanndy, a Malaysian ISIS operative based in ISIS-controlled territory and reportedly killed in a drone strike on April 29, 2017, was suspected of directing operatives in Malaysia to launch the June 28, 2016, grenade attack on a nightclub near Kuala Lumpur. The U.S. Treasury Department had designated Muhammad Wanndy a Specially Designated Global Terrorist on March 30, 2017, under Executive Order 13224 for “provid[ing] financial and operational support for ISIS’ recruitment and attack-plotting in Malaysia and elsewhere in Southeast Asia.” According to Malaysian police, about one-third of 250 people arrested in Malaysia for suspected ISIS ties between 2013 and 2016 were believed to have been recruited by or otherwise linked to Muhammad Wanndy. (Sources: International Business TimesStraits TimesCNNU.S. Treasury DepartmentBenar News)

On January 13, 2017, three Malaysian ISIS militants were reportedly killed in an airstrike in Raqqa, Syria. One of those killed, Zainuri Kamaruddin, appeared in a May 2016 video burning his Malaysian passport and pledging allegiance to ISIS. On November 15, 2016, Malaysian national Hasan Zakaria, 25, reportedly drove a car bomb into a group of Kurdish soldiers in Syria, killing 15, including himself, and injuring many others. Three other Malaysians—one with a degree in finance and who had recently become a father—died fighting for ISIS against the Syrian army. As of August 27, 2014, three Malaysian women were believed to have traveled to Syria to offer themselves as sexual “comfort women” to ISIS fighters to boost their morale, according to Malaysian intelligence official. (Sources: The Star/Asia News NetworkStraits TimesStraits Times)

A number of Malaysian children are believed to live in ISIS-held territory. A May 2016 ISIS video entitled, “The Generation of the Epic Battles,” featured young boys at a training camp in Syria. The 15-minute propaganda video shows 23 boys who appear to be from Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines learning to shoot guns and quoting the Quran. The Malaysian police’s Special Branch believe that children as young as two-years-old were brought to Syria by their parents or were born to Malaysian parents in Syria. (Sources: VocativSEARCCT)

In July 2018, Malaysia issued a conditional return offer to around 102 Malaysians who had left the country to join ISIS. This offer involved compliance with security checks, investigations, psychological examinations, and counseling sessions with religious clerics to evaluate their level of radicalization. Under the offer, all returnees will be interrogated but not all will be detained, subject to the outcome of investigations. After preliminary investigations, those who did not participate in militant activities or criminal offences will undergo a one-month government-run rehabilitation program before they are re-integrated into society. Those found involved in criminal offences or militant activities will face court trials. The process differs for women and children, hence, their situation will be assessed on a case-to-case basis before the government decides on a suitable de-radicalization process. (Source: Today Online)


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