Step up online fight against Islamist extremism, urges Malaysia's anti-terror chief

A suspect believed to be a member of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) being detained by the Malaysian police for allegedly planning a series of terror attacks in the Klang Valley in Kuala Lumpur.
A suspect believed to be a member of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) being detained by the Malaysian police for allegedly planning a series of terror attacks in the Klang Valley in Kuala Lumpur. PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

As terrorists increasingly use technology to influence Muslim youths with dangerous religious ideologies, the authorities should push them back in the same manner, said Malaysia's top anti-terrorism chief.

Social media tools have a wider chance of reaching out to risk groups with the right messages, said Special Branch Counter Terrorism Division director Ayub Khan Mydin Pitchay.

"Our utilisation of this medium to provide counter-narratives is currently lacking, more can be done," Datuk Ayub said during a briefing session on extremism and terrorism to Muslim youths in Selangor yesterday.

He said cooperation between agencies such as the Religious Affairs Department, muftis (state Islamic leaders) and the Malaysia Communications and Multimedia Commission was key to curbing the spread of deviant ideologies.

Malaysia has said it is setting up the Regional Digital Counter- Messaging Communications Centre to counter the distorted Islamic narrative with help from the United States in training, equipment and operations.

The briefing yesterday came amid the ongoing fight by Malaysia to stop extremist groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) from capturing the hearts of more Muslims in the country.

Since February 2013, Malaysian police have arrested 145 suspects linked to ISIS, with 58 of them - or 40 per cent - aged between 13 and 27.

Datuk Ayub said that during interrogation of the suspected militants, some told the police that they had subscribed to ISIS ideology because of the false promise of rewards in the afterlife, such as a gift of 72 virgins.

He advised youths not to blindly follow teachings of dubious Muslim clerics found on YouTube and to get a second opinion from established religious authorities.

Parents, he added, play an important role in monitoring the activities of their children.

"If they show signs of being influenced by ISIS ideas, and fight or debate with family members about these thoughts, parents can report their children to police so that we can provide them with counselling," he said.

Criminologist P. Sundramoorthy said myths such as the promise of 72 virgins, had to be debunked through social media via trusted religious authorities.

"These militants, they fiddle with your sexual desires and many believe this (promise of virgins) can actually happen because of the fact that no one has denied these myths publicly," he told The Straits Times.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 28, 2015, with the headline ''Step up online fight against allure of Islamist extremism''. Print Edition | Subscribe