Malaysia to Launch New Center to Counter Islamic State Messaging in May

The country will set up a regional counter-messaging center to counter the group’s social media presence.

Malaysia will set up a new regional center in May to counter messaging from the Islamic State (IS), the country’s deputy prime minister said Tuesday.

As I have written previously, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak told the Leaders’ Summit on Countering ISIL and Violent Extremism at the United Nations last September that the country was eyeing the formation of a regional, digital counter-messaging communication center (RDC3) because Southeast Asia lacks such a facility (See: “Malaysia Eyes New Regional Facility to Counter Islamic State”).

Though his remarks, which came after Malaysia became one of the newest members of the U.S.-led Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, were a testament to the Muslim-majority nation’s willingness to contribute in the struggle against IS, specifics, including the project’s timeline, cost and structure, remained unclear (See: “Exclusive: US, Malaysia and the War Against the Islamic State”).

On Tuesday, Malaysia’s deputy prime minister, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, revealed more details about the center, which U.S. and Malaysian officials had previously said would be modeled off of a similar one set up between the United States and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in Abu Dhabi, known as Sawab or the “Right Path” Center.

According to Zahid, the RDC3 was expected to begin operations on May 1 and the Malaysian government had allocated an initial 200 million ringgit for it. Late last year, a Malaysian official speaking on the condition of anonymity had told The Diplomat that the cost of the project was a concern, with one preliminary estimate running up to a few billion dollars even though the United States had agreed to provide some assistance (See: “Exclusive: US, Malaysia and the War Against the Islamic State”).

Zahid, who is also home minister, said discussions were also being held between the three government agencies on managing the center, which is expected to focus on both countering the Islamic State’s social media strength and presenting a more attractive alternative. As I noted in my previous report for The Diplomat, a Malaysian official had admitted that the exact location of the facility and the agencies involved, including the Home Ministry, the Foreign Ministry, and the Southeast Asia Regional Center for Counterterrorism (SEARCCT), which was set up in 2003 during the George W. Bush years following controversy about the extent of U.S. involvement These were issues that were still being worked out

Zahid remarks came after the closing of the two-day International Conference on Deradicalization and Countering Violent Extremism in Kuala Lumpur, which Malaysia had agreed to host last year (See: “Malaysia to Host New Conference to Tackle Islamic State Challenge”). The meeting featured ministers and officials from the ten members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) along with the grouping’s key partners: Australia, Britain, China, France, Italy, Japan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and the United States.