Malaysia will set up regional centre to counter ISIS propaganda

Malaysian DPM Ahmad Zahid Hamidi speaking during a press conference at the premier's office on July 28, 2015.
Malaysian DPM Ahmad Zahid Hamidi speaking during a press conference at the premier's office on July 28, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysia will set up a regional centre that sends out the "right" message to counter the distorted narrative of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in its recruitment of foreign fighters for its cause.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, at a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi in Washington, confirmed that a Regional Digital Counter-Messaging Communications Centre would be set up in Malaysia.

Dr Ahmad Zahid said Kerry confirmed that Malaysia would host the centre to take the fight against the violent extremism of ISIS to cyberspace.

"The centre will be located in Kuala Lumpur. The US will help us in three aspects - training, equipment and operations," he told Malaysian journalists after the meeting.

However, details were not yet available although the centre is likely to resemble the one already set up by the US in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which is designed to counter ISIS' social media strength and present a more attractive alternative.

Two weeks ago, at the United Nations' Leaders' Summit on Countering ISIL and Violent Extremism, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said Malaysia was actively exploring the possibility of setting up the centre to effectively push the anti-ISIS messaging. ISIL is another name for the ISIS militant group.

On the growing recruitment from more than 100 countries by extremist groups, Dr Ahmad Zahid said social media was the main tool used by ISIS to attract fighters, especially in Syria and Iraq.

"Empirical studies show that social media accounts for 87 per cent of those attracted to terrorist groups," he said.

Earlier, Dr Ahmad Zahid and Kerry jointly signed a Homeland Security Presidential Directive No 6 (HSPD-6) document at the State Department, one of the mandatory criteria which brings Malaysians one step closer to visa waivers for travel to the United States.

Under the HSPD-6 document, the United States and Malaysia will be able to share information based on a list of 86,000 terrorists and suspected terrorists in the United States and various countries.

At the same time, Malaysia will also provide information on suspected terrorists brought to court under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota) introduced in April. Terror suspects can be held without trial for two years under the Act.

"Previously, we used Interpol as the channel of information but now we will get it directly from the US or FBI. Our police can now take immediate action to prevent as well as curb problems related to ter­rorism activities," said Dr Ahmad Zahid.

He said Malaysia was at the forefront of the fight against terrorism as it had been seen as a country that was successful in its efforts.

It will now work on developing a template and drawing up standards for programmes to help the inter­national community combat ter­rorism as well as in the areas of rehabilitation and deradicalisation.

Malaysia's counter-terrorism forces have thwarted the attempts of extremists who wanted to travel to the Middle East via Malaysia and arrested more than 100 suspected of links with ISIS.

At the meeting, Kerry was said to have been very appreciative of Malaysia's commitment in the fight against ISIS.

The two leaders touched on a range of issues, including the Visa Waiver Programme, Trans Pacific Partnership, Malaysia opening its doors to 3,000 Syrian immigrants and territorial disputes in the South China Sea.