Malaysia on high alert for terror strikes during Ramadan

Johor police officers on patrol at a shopping centre. Security has also been stepped up at public places such as bus and train stations.
Johor police officers on patrol at a shopping centre. Security has also been stepped up at public places such as bus and train stations.PHOTO: BERNAMA

40,000 policemen deployed across country after militants declare fasting month an ideal period for attacks

KUALA LUMPUR • Malaysia has placed its security forces on high alert after militant groups declared the Muslim fasting month as an ideal time to carry out more attacks, the country's police chief said yesterday.

Malaysia has cancelled festive leave for all policemen during the upcoming Hari Raya Puasa period, and will deploy 40,000 officers around the country - several thousand more than in previous years, Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar was quoted as saying by The Malay Mail Online (MMO) news site yesterday.

The country's armed forces are also on standby in east Sabah at the border with the Philippines, and along Malaysia's border with southern Thailand, he said.

Last year, only 10 per cent of the force - who are mostly Malay- Muslims - were allowed to go on festive leave.

Speaking of the militants, he said their extremist beliefs have driven them to declare the fasting month of Ramadan, viewed as the holiest month by Muslims, as an ideal time to carry out more attacks to maim and kill people.

"They believe they are set to receive more heavenly rewards from carrying these attacks during Ramadan," Tan Sri Khalid said, as quoted by MMO. "(ISIS) thinks that Ramadan is a good month for them to carry out their so-called jihad attacks, so we must be alert."

The Hari Raya Puasa celebration, starting at the end of this month, is the biggest festive period for the Muslim-majority country, which has a population of 32 million.

Millions of Malaysians typically return to their home towns a few days before Hari Raya Puasa, packing bus and train stations. All the highways out of the big cities, such as Kuala Lumpur, would be jam- packed with vehicles.

Hari Raya Puasa falls on June 25 this year, marking the end of the fasting month.

Mr Khalid said the police are staying vigilant against the militants. "We are on constant alert to look out for possible threats. Police now need to be more vigilant in tackling these militants, and we will not be lenient in our preparation and enforcement," he said.

South-east Asia's third-biggest economy suffered its first attack by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) last year when two men on a motorcycle lobbed a grenade into a nightspot in Puchong, Selangor, injuring eight people. The police have arrested three men connected with ISIS' only successful attack in Malaysia, and the courts have jailed two of them.

Malaysia arrested more than 250 people between 2013 and 2016 for suspected militant activities linked to ISIS, and foiled several plots to carry out local attacks. The police last week busted an ISIS cell consisting of half a dozen men who have been smuggling weapons into the country from Thailand.

Mr Khalid said the Counter Terrorism Unit of the police force is to be upgraded, as announced by Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi last week. Datuk Seri Zahid said the unit, which is part of the police's Special Branch, would become a division and be headed by a senior police officer.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 10, 2017, with the headline 'Malaysia on high alert for terror strikes during Ramadan'. Print Edition | Subscribe