WhyItMatters

When soldiers get radicalised

Malaysia is witnessing a worrying trend of its soldiers, including crack troops, turning into ISIS militants.

Last week, police arrested two young men based at a special forces camp in Malacca for trying to spread the ideology of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) among fellow soldiers.

The 28-year-olds are closely connected to two other army commandos who were nabbed on Aug 19 for picking up the murderous ideology from the Internet and then trying to influence their friends.

Worse, police said 13 military personnel have been arrested for suspected links to ISIS to date.

The worry for the authorities is twofold. Firstly, that they will go to fight in the Middle East and return as battle-hardened fighters who could then wreak havoc in Malaysia, a country seen as "secular" from the viewpoint of ISIS' extreme ideology.

Second, that these trained men who can handle guns and bombs and are experts in military tactics could adopt the ISIS call of staying put in Malaysia to launch bombings and other violent attacks.

The police in April detained 17 people inspired by ISIS who were planning to kidnap high-profile figures and launch terrorist attacks. Their leader was a 49-year-old ISIS member who had military training in Afghanistan in 1989 and in Indonesia in 2000.

Police have detained at least 130 people - including the latest arrests - linked to militant activities in Iraq and Syria. And due to the influence of social media, Malaysians have donated RM50,000 (S$16,400) to extremist groups in Syria to support their fight and to help war victims.

The government in April passed a tough anti-terrorism law. But the risks remain great, particularly ISIS' pervasive online recruitment and brainwashing tactics. In addition, 100 Malaysians are estimated by security analysts to be working with ISIS in Syria. These recruits would likely pose a serious threat if they decided to return home.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 05, 2015, with the headline 'When soldiers get radicalised'. Print Edition | Subscribe