Where Is the New Malaysia-Saudi Arabia Counterterrorism Center?

Both sides continue to make progress on the establishment of the new institution.

Where Is the New Malaysia-Saudi Arabia Counterterrorism Center?
Credit: Flickr/AK Rockefeller

When Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Abdulaziz Al Saud visited Malaysia in March, one of the key deliverables was the agreement to establish a new international center designed to counter radical ideologies and promote Islam as a religion of peace and moderation.

As I wrote then, the setting up of the King Salman Center for International Peace (KSCIP), which had been discussed by the two sides previously, was said to be launched within the next three months in collaboration with the two defense ministries, the Islamic Science University of Malaysia (USIM), and the Muslim World League (See: “Malaysia, Saudi Arabia Step Up Terror Fight”).

If successfully set up, it would be the latest in a string of new institutions Malaysia has been setting up amid the rising challenge of the Islamic State. As I have noted previously, Malaysia has been working with the United States to set up a Regional Counterterrorism Digital Communication Center in the Southeast Asia Regional Center for Counterterrorism (SEARCCT), and has also established its own Counter Messaging Center (CMC) run by the Royal Malaysian Police.

More than a month since the initial announcement, where do things stand with KSCIP? Last week, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Asyraf Wadji Dusuki told reporters that the talks between the two countries on the establishment of the center were around 60 percent complete. He characterized KSCIP’s development as being “very positive,” with both sides agreeing on the location on a 9.7-hectare site at USIM and operations likely to begin by late June should things go well.

Over the weekend, the two sides met in Kuala Lumpur where additional details about the center were expected to be discussed. On Saturday, Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein and Muslim World League Secretary General Mohammed bin Abdulkarim Al-Isa held a joint press conference, though few new specifics were disclosed. The Saudi Press Agency cited two unnamed senior officials as saying that the two countries “share identical viewpoints on the vision, message, values, and objectives of the center.”

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The specific details of that vision, though, remain quite vague. The Saudi Press Agency said that it would be “specialized on laying the foundations of peace, tolerance values, consolidate the concepts of moderation, enhance the positive profile of Islam, defuse the shameful accusations launched every time and then against the religion, confront the ideologies of terrorism and extremism and spread its message abroad targeting the wise minds of the whole world.” Though that is quite an ambitious agenda, it tells us little about what the center would actually do and how it would go about accomplishing it.

But that has not prevented Prime Minister Najib Razak from boasting about the yet-to-be-established center domestically. Malaysia is a Muslim-majority nation, and with Najib and his ruling party, the United Malay National Organization (UMNO) set to face an election within the next year or so, he has been keen to court Malay Muslim votes by advertising the legitimacy conferred upon his government by the leader of Saudi Arabia, where the two holiest mosques in Islam are located in Mecca and Medina (indeed, during Salman’s visit, it was not uncommon to see Malaysian media refer to him by his title “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques”).

At a rally on Sunday, Najib invoked the center as an illustration of his party’s commitment to Islam. “If people say UMNO’s policies are contrary to Islam, for sure, the King of Saudi Arabia, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, would not allow his name to be used at the King Salman Centre for Global Peace,” he said. One wonders how many of those at the rally actually were aware of the center’s existence in the first place. But it is clear that this is something that both sides are continuing to prioritize.