Malaysia tables White Paper on Islamic militancy; says new anti-terror law needed

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia wants to draft a new anti-terror law to stem the growing threats of Islamic militancy after seeing at least 39 people joining the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, and 19 suspects in Malaysia escaping court charges due to insufficient proof.

Prime Minister Najib Razak tabled a White Paper - only the third such policy document in the country's history - in Parliament on Wednesday morning. It states that his government must "act immediately to contain" the influence of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIS) that has caused global alarm.

The White Paper said efforts to address the threat of ISIS have become more challenging and authorities need current laws to be strengthened.

"However to address new threats concerning the presence of militants in conflict areas and returnees to Malaysia, a specific law is needed.

"The rise of IS influence can inspire and re-ignite militant groups in Malaysia. The call to jihad by IS is very influential as it is based on Islamic compulsion that has been manipulated so Malaysians are compelled to join them," the White Paper says, referring to ISIS by its other name, Islamic State (IS).

Speaking in parliament, Mr Najib said "the government proposes to table this new law in the next parliamentary sitting'', adding that the current law is insufficient to contain IS ideology.

“This White Paper also proposes to strengthen existing laws such as the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act, Prevention of Crime Act and the Penal code to curb the threat of terrorism and militancy,” he said in his hard hitting speech.

“I hope to gain the support of all levels of society so that the people will not be influenced by such ideologies.

“I urge all Malaysians especially youths and parents to reject this extremist ideology which can destroy the future of all...The peace and harmony achieved all this while is priceless and should be preserved,” he said.

Police have identified 17 Malaysians who have fought for ISIS and another 22 who joined another militant group operating in Syria and Iraq, known as Ajnad al-Sham.

Of the 39 militants, six were former Internal Security Act (ISA) detainees before the law was repealed as part of Mr Najib's liberal reforms in 2011.

The ISA allowed for preventive detention, an element that authorities have since argued is crucial for stamping out terrorism, bemoaning the fact that they have been unable to hold suspects longer to aid investigations.

However, critics have accused the government of using the ISA to imprison political dissenters without trial.

Other countries, such as Australia and the United Kingdom, have already enacted additional anti-terror laws in recent years while Singapore has maintained its ISA.

Five Malaysians so far have died in battle in conflict zones, including a suicide bomber.

Another five have returned to Malaysia and three of them are part of 40 people arrested so far this year in connection to the ISIS, including seven women and key recruiters.

"Twenty-one have been charged while 19 were released as there is insufficient proof," the White Paper says.

"Malaysia faces security risks following the return of militants from Syria and Iraq...  able to commit terror acts as lone wolfs or in groups in Malaysia or across borders," the document adds.

ISIS has gathered assets worth RM7 billion (S$2.7 billion), according to the White Paper, with a steady cash flow of RM3 million daily from black market oil sales.

shannont@sph.com.sg