Malaysia appeared to have scored a small victory in its assault against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants this week, with the country no longer deemed a safe transit point for recruits headed to Syria to join the group.
An ISIS recruiter in Syria, using the name Abu Hud, posted a warning on the ISIS website urging Indonesians not to transit Malaysia in the wake of the police crackdown against the group there, the Malaysian newspaper The Star reported Tuesday.
“If Indonesians ask where they have to go through, please do not give advice to pass through Turkey or any place where they have to transit to Malaysia… It is tantamount to suicide. It is not safe anymore!” the notice posted on the blog said.
The recruiter also reportedly advised anyone transiting countries with the intention of eventually joining ISIS not to bring anything with them while traveling that is related to the group or its activities, such as a video, book or sticker. This is was allegedly how several Malaysians and Indonesians were previously detected by authorities.
In response, Malaysia’s deputy inspector-general of police Noor Rashid Ibrahim told The Star that the counter-terrorism division would continue its efforts to hunt down Malaysians as well as recruits of other nationalities in order to prevent the country from becoming a hideout, base, or transit point for militants.
“We are glad our efforts are showing results and are preventing militants from joining IS through Malaysia… We will continue our vigilance at all exit and entry points to ensure no one slips through our net,” he said.
Despite this positive development, several sources that The Star cited cautioned against declaring victory just yet. One said the warning on the ISIS website could merely be a trick to throw Malaysian authorities off guard, while a few others emphasized that the militants would now just use alternative routes to transit to ISIS-controlled territories, including stopping in Brunei, Hong Kong, China and other European countries.
As The Diplomat reported previously, Malaysian authorities have been cracking down on ISIS militants in recent months amid reports of their rising threat in the country. News has surfaced of militants seeking to influence domestic political parties, raise funds, and plan attacks on government agencies and entertainment centers in addition to their desire to use Malaysia as a preferred transit point. Aside from a recent wave of arrests, Malaysia is also expected to introduce a new Anti-Terrorism Act in the coming months to strengthen the power of law enforcement agencies, which has raised concerns among rights groups.
Since February 2014, Malaysia’s special branch counter-terrorism division has reportedly arrested 51 suspected Malaysian militants, with a number of Indonesians also apprehended.