The Malay-speaking wing of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has issued a warning to Malaysia on January 25 as the Southeast Asian state mounts a crackdown against the group and holds an international conference on countering violent extremism.
According to The Star, a Malaysian daily, the Malay unit of ISIS called Katibah Nusantara (Malay Archipelago Combat Unit) – which is estimated to group hundreds of Malaysians and Indonesians – has issued a video in native Bahasa Malaysia entitled “Mesej Awam Kepada Malaysia” (Public Message for Malaysia).
“If you catch us, we will only increase in number but if you let us be, we will be closer to our goal of bringing back the rule of the Khalifah (caliph),” the video warns.
“We will never bow down to the democratic system of governance as we will only follow Allah’s rules,” it adds.
The video comes as Malaysia, a Muslim-majority country, has mounted a crackdown against ISIS following attacks in Jakarta which killed eight – including the four attackers – and injured dozens (See: “Islamic State Attack in Indonesia? A Look at the 2016 Jakarta Bombings”). Experts have been warning that the ISIS is attempting to deepen its reach into Southeast Asia this year, including by establishing distant caliphates in certain Southeast Asian states (See: “Islamic State Eyes Asia Base in 2016 in Philippines, Indonesia”).
On Sunday, Malaysia’s police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said that seven Malaysian members of an ISIS cell were arrested over the past week for planning attacks across the country, with suspects carrying bullets, books on jihad and ISIS flags. Those arrests came just over a week after Malaysia had nabbed another suspected militant who was allegedly planning a suicide attack in the country’s capital of Kuala Lumpur.
Thus far, as I have written recently, public government estimates suggest that over 150 Malaysian citizens have been arrested at home thus far for terrorism-related activities since the formation of ISIS, with dozens of others being recruited and trained abroad in the Middle East (See: “How Serious is the Islamic State Threat in Malaysia?”).
Ayob Khan, the head of the special branch’s counterterrorism division, said that the video, which featured two Malaysians based in Syria, was further proof of the threat from ISIS and the Katibah group in particular.
“It further proves that IS, especially the Katibah group, views our country as secular, and as such makes the government and the people as its targets. This is no doubt in retaliation against our security forces’ actions against them,” he told The Star on Sunday.
He added that the video may be proof that the militants in Malaysia are becoming more organized with stronger links to ISIS.
“Perhaps they didn’t have a direct link with IS before, but now they do, so they can use the IS logo in the videos,” he said.
These fears also come as Malaysia hosts an international conference on forging a regional response to combating terrorism, with participants including the ten Southeast Asian countries that form the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as well as the grouping’s eight dialogue partners – the United States, China, South Korea, Japan, India, Australia, New Zealand and Russia (See: “Malaysia to Host New Conference to Tackle Islamic State Challenge”).
Speaking at the opening of the International Conference on Deradicalization and Countering Violent Extremism in Kuala Lumpur on January 25, Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak characterized the threat as “very real.”
“This threat is very real and my government takes it very seriously,” Najib said. “This is a challenge that faces us all around the world. We are far from immune to this danger in Malaysia.”