KUALA LUMPUR, July 21 — Inspector-General of Police Datuk Seri Abdul Hamid Bador credits Malaysia’s counter terrorism success to the sharing of information with international counterparts who have more experience in fighting extremist ideologies.
The Counter Terrorism (E8) Division of the Bukit Aman Special Branch department has racked up an impressive number of arrests and stopped planned attacks from happening here.
“We have been watching closely the developments taking place in the Middle East as there had been earlier concerns that the defeat of the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria and Iraq could lead to frustrated fighters who have yet to fulfill their mission to become martyrs,” Abdul Hamid told the Malay Mail.
“The concern is that they would return to their countries of origin like Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines and will conduct their final act in their home country.
“But so far this has not been realised except for maybe the Philippines but that too investigators are not sure if the perpetrators are those returning from that region,” he said, referring to the Middle East.
In March, major news outlets reported that the IS has lost the last pocket of territory in Syria and Iraq which it controlled, bringing a formal end to the caliphate it proclaimed in 2014.
The group controls no territory in Iraq and Syria, attacks are down and the number of foreign fighters it continues to recruit is a fraction of what it was at its height.
But the notorious terrorist group remains a serious, violent threat. Many of its top leaders are still alive and it continues to carry out attacks.
Abdul Hamid said police are always concerned when it comes to terror threats in the country and are constantly vigilant.
“We are constantly monitoring social media and at the same time we have increased the engagement with foreign intelligence organisations, sharing information especially with the experienced ones such as Sri Lanka and Bangladesh and of course our long-time partner Indonesia who has been very cordial with us.
“We have been brotherly with these countries in our joint effort in tackling this issue,” he said.
‘Don't take away Sosma’
Abdul Hamid said terror networks feared Malaysia's Internal Security Act (ISA).
“For them, they knew ISA is the end for them... that's how it was. But now that ISA is history, we have this powerful legislation the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (Sosma) 2012, which helps us.
“I want to share with the public... if Sosma is taken away from us, it means you take away our 'guns' to fight terrorists... the public should be educated about this,” he said.
Abdul Hamid said such laws allow the police to act, not to wait until a threat is in the advance stage.
“We know our limits. I for one would not allow the police to use torture tactics, I have made it very strict to my men in the counter terrorism department.
“That is why I have made it clear that there must always be CCTVs in interrogation rooms and everywhere else. I always remind my men to not tackle this issue by torturing the subjects as that will make it worse.
“We will not implement torture tactics to illicit confessions,” he said.
Abdul Hamid said the terror suspects are misled on ideology and it is important for the authorities to use experts from religious departments to reason with them.
Terror threat is real, Malaysians must not be complacent
The top cop also reminded Malaysians that the threat of terrorism is not something that can be taken lightly.
“There are people who take it for granted, sometimes not appreciative or complacent that it’s not going to happen here. At times they have been unfair to us. We have spent a lot of time and energy to ensure it (attacks) doesn't happen here.
“We need the public to be aware and we need their co-operation so that they can continue providing tip-offs of any suspicious behaviour,” he said,
Abdul Hamid said in many instances the police were able to prevent an attack from happening at the final stage.
“We want the public to know about this so they can help, that is why I go to the press and talk about all this,” he said.
Police monitoring 'wolf pack' terrorism
Abdul Hamid said police are also closely monitoring terrorist activities by lone wolves and "wolf packs.”
He said in contrast to IS, these terrorists have no network or links with militant cells and move in small groups of six to seven members.
“We have to continue monitoring and ensure we can abort attacks before the militants can launch them.
“So far we have been successful in singling them out,” he said adding that such threats are the reason why the police has always empowered the E8 division.
Abdul Hamid said he had also recently briefed the Council of Rulers about the fight against terrorism.
“The Council of Rulers is also very concerned about it and I have told the Rulers that police will continue to engage with the Islamic Development Department of Malaysia (Jakim) to educate the public against extremist ideologies.”
Rohingyas easy target for international terrorist groups
Abdul Hamid said there is a concern that Rohingyas in the country might become an easy target for terrorist organisations and the police are closely monitoring the situation.
During a recent crackdown against terror cells, four Rohingya suspects were detained; two of them had planned to assassinate four VIPs and launch large-scale attacks on non-Muslim houses of worship, as well as entertainment centres in the Klang Valley.
“We have to understand they have been suppressed just like the Palestinians, we have to understand their predicament, there will be a small number of them... the frustrated ones who will resort to subscribing to terrorism but the majority are not.
“When you talk about Rohingyas, there have been concerns raised by Bangladeshi intelligence and we are sharing information with them.
“Our intelligence gathering has worked in thwarting terror plots... that is why we cannot lag behind. We may not realise this but another reason for us to perform well in this area is also thanks to our government's foreign policy that has been very consistent. I can tell you terror groups fear us,” he said.