KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 22 — Authorities’ decision to free Yazid Sufaat, the Malaysian militant directly linked to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, will trigger concern from the United States, according to a security researcher based there.
Professor Zachary Abuza of the National War College in Washington told the South China Morning Post (SCMP) that US security and counter-terrorism experts were taken aback by Malaysia’s move.
“The US will be very concerned, as he is an unreconstructed terrorist committed to perpetrating mass murder in the furtherance of his extreme ideology,” the specialist in regional terrorism and insurgencies was quoted as saying.
“He had everything in place to mass produce anthrax for al-Qaeda, and was simply waiting to acquire the virulent Ames strain.”
On Wednesday night, Bukit Aman counter-terrorism chief Datuk Ayob Khan Pitchay confirmed that Yazid was released as his detention order under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota) 2015 has expired.
Ayob said Yazid would be restricted to Ampang here and must obtain police permission to leave the area.
Authorities also sought to assuage public concern by publicising that Yazid has been made to wear an electronic monitoring device and barred from owning a phone or accessing the Internet at least for the next two years.
Yazid’s release is concerning as it comes at a time when the Islamic State, which was previously thought to have been defeated, has been given a new lease of life after US President Donald Trump unexpectedly withdrew his country’s forces from Syria.
The move allowed Turkey to launch attacks on the Kurdish forces that had been guarding captured IS combatants, allowing an unknown number to escape.
Malaysia was among source countries for fighters who joined the IS terrorist group.
Abuza told the SCMP that Yazid must be closely monitored as he was “a potent recruiter and inspiration”.
Another counterterrorism expert, Ahmad El-Muhammady, said he believe Yazid was not a security risk but must be observed as he would be a prized asset for militant groups.
“He has been waiting for this moment for so long, reuniting with his family. Personally, I’m so happy to know he has been released,” El-Muhammady, who interviewed Yazid in 2017, told the SCMP.
“I believe he will spend time more with his family. I believe he knows the risks of re-engaging in whatever forms of security offences that might put him in harm’s way.”
A trained biochemist and former army captain, Yazid has been involved in terrorist activities since the early 1990s, when he sought to develop biological weapons for al Qaeda.
Yazid is Malaysia’s direct link to al Qaeda’s 2001 attack on the US. He is said to have hosted leaders of the terrorist group at his home while they planned the attack.