Region's leaders vow to take tougher anti-terror stance

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (right) and his deputy Ahmad Zahid Hamidi watching a video presentation during the International Conference on Deradicalisation and Countering Violent Extremismin Kuala Lumpur yesterday.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (right) and his deputy Ahmad Zahid Hamidi watching a video presentation during the International Conference on Deradicalisation and Countering Violent Extremismin Kuala Lumpur yesterday.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Regional leaders have vowed to take a tougher stance against Islamic militancy, amid its growing threat to the region's security, including implementing new anti-terror laws that give wide-ranging powers to the authorities.

Opening a conference focused on deradicalising terrorists, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said the threat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is "very real". "This is a challenge that faces us all around the world. We are far from immune to this danger in Malaysia," he said.

He said a slew of new security laws was required to ensure the safety of the nation, amid criticism that his government was stifling civil liberties. "There are no civil liberties under Daesh, and there is no shield against those who are set on committing acts of terrorism," he said yesterday, using one of the names for ISIS.

Last year, Malaysia added several preventive laws against terrorism - seen by many as giving too much power to the government - to the existing Security Offences (Special Measures) Act.

Indonesia said it would outlaw involvement with militant groups with legal changes this year. But its anti-terrorism agency's international cooperation chief Petrus Golose told reporters yesterday that "we will not be as harsh as Malaysia, we will look at human rights".

Indonesian President Joko Widodo had promised after Jan 14's deadly attacks in Jakarta to give police preventive powers. Indonesia does not have laws prohibiting its people from joining or supporting ISIS.

Singapore's Minister for Home Affairs K. Shanmugam said society must be prepared to face the accelerating spread of militant propaganda, especially via social media. While his ministry said last week that it had rounded up 27 Bangladeshi nationals working in Singapore late last year who were planning extremist activities, he said "it can't be a situation of arrest them, lock them up and throw away the keys".

Alarm in the region's Malay- speaking countries has soared after repeated threats of local attacks from ISIS in past months culminated in the Jakarta attacks that killed eight people and injured 28.

A video has also surfaced from the Malay-language wing of ISIS, threatening reprisals against Malaysia if it did not release detained ISIS recruits and continued to arrest them. Malaysian police say it is the first video in Malay bearing the ISIS logo that has been issued threatening the country.

Among the militants in the Malay-language wing is Indonesian Bahrun Naim, who is said to have masterminded the Jakarta attacks from Syria. Inspector-General Petrus said Bahrun has cells not just in Malaysia and Indonesia, but also in Malay-speaking communities across the world.

He said Bahrun has always used cyberspace to disseminate information to the media and was continuing this strategy. "He is a cyber-terrorism expert who is very well-connected with other terrorist organisations around the world."

Malaysian counter-terror police arrested seven people with suspected links to ISIS over the weekend, including one linked to Bahrun, bringing the total they have detained over the past two years to 157.

Department head Ayob Khan Pitchay Mydin told reporters yesterday that while the seven were instructed to carry out attacks, they were only "general instructions".

"(No suspects) have gotten to the implementation stage, just discussions only. We have managed to disrupt it at this phase," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 26, 2016, with the headline 'Region's leaders vow to take tougher anti-terror stance'. Print Edition | Subscribe