Rise of extremist views worrying

From just four arrests in 2013, the number of people nabbed in Malaysia for alleged involvement with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) ballooned to 119 last year, in line with a rising level of alarm.

Malaysian police are now calling on the religious authorities to play their part in stemming the rise of extremist ideology after 2016 saw the first attack on Malaysian soil. Eight people were injured when a grenade was lobbed at a nightspot near Kuala Lumpur last June.

Counter-terrorism forces are concerned that despite having foiled 14 planned attacks - 122 people were charged, with 62 found guilty - since 2013, their efforts could be overwhelmed if the number of ISIS agents and sympathisers continues to mushroom.

The term "jihad" has long been a convenient one used by national leaders, both political and religious, when seeking to convince Muslims to vote a particular way or support a particular cause. It is also used in Friday sermons at state-run mosques by clerics warning against Western and liberal influences. The local authorities now say "experts" are teaching in mosques and even Islamic schools and universities that supporting an armed struggle is justified when a fellow Muslim is being oppressed.

Although a religious edict banning involvement in ISIS was issued in 2014 by the National Fatwa Council, the country's top body of clerics, the religious authorities seem unable to keep tabs on what is being taught in mosques, madrasahs and Islamic centres, thousands of which were built by the government itself.

Given the porous nature of digital communications, which allow users in different countries to text or chat with one another, militant Islam could spread uncontrollably in the region.

There are already intelligence reports of terrorist networks, such as ISIS, seeking to bring together splinter groups and cells in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, whose members are willing to give life and limb for a "righteous" cause.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 05, 2017, with the headline 'Rise of extremist views worrying'. Print Edition | Subscribe