A Saudi-backed anti-terrorism center to be set up in Malaysia will conduct research into and counter the ideology spread by extremist groups including the Islamic State (IS), Malaysian officials told BenarNews.
At the end of a visit to Malaysia by Saudi Arabia’s king earlier this month, the two predominantly Muslim countries announced a joint agreement to set up the King Salman Center for International Peace, saying it would be up and running within three months.
The center is being set up through a partnership involving the Intellectual Warfare Center the Ministry of Defense in Saudi Arabia, the Security and Defense Center at Malaysia’s Ministry of Defense, the Muslim World League and the Islamic Science University of Malaysia (USIM), officials from both countries said in a statement on March 1.
“The establishment of this center involves many things especially involving academics voicing their views on how we can stem the ideology of militants, mainly IS (the Islamic State) as a growing presence around the world, not only in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, but also an ideology that has spread across countries that do not have extremist Islamic groups,” Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki, a deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Department who serves as the chairman of the center’s committee, told BenarNews.
“It takes into account how to attract militant groups to leave their extreme views and discuss achieving world peace without having to take up arms,” Dusuki added.
The new center, whose price-tag has not been determined, is one of three counter-terrorism centers based in Malaysia, where authorities have warned of an emerging terrorist threat from recruitment of local youths by IS.
The country is home to an online counter-extremist messaging center overseen by the Royal Malaysia Police and the Southeast Asia Regional Center for Counter-Terrorism, operated under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with assistance from the U.S. State Department.
The new center will be housed on the university’s campus in Nilai, Negeri Sembilan, 45 km (28 miles) from central Kuala Lumpur, according to USIM Vice Chancellor Musa Ahmad.
“In recent years, we can see wars, conflicts and battles that have led to unstable and chaotic environments in Muslim countries. USIM would like to be among those who are on the frontline in sustaining peace and harmony throughout the world and to uphold the holy name of Islam and its ummah,” Musa told BenarNews, using a term for the entire world’s Muslim community.
Meeting with Muslim countries
The future center’s mission will be to curb terrorism globally, and this challenge must be tackled urgently because the IS group is establishing a stronghold in the neighboring Philippines, Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said.
“The presence of the militant group based in the southern Philippines must be contained and the establishment of [the King Salman Center] will help curb militant groups from developing and recruiting the people of Malaysia and the countries of Southeast Asia as members of IS,” Hishammuddin told BenarNews.
Fighting terrorism should not be limited to law enforcement and military operations, and governments should use extensive academic research as a tool in the war on terror, he added.
“[F]or the first time in history, five Islamic countries … have agreed to cooperate in various fields of defense and counter-terrorism initiatives, particularly to promote Islam as a true religion while eliminating negative perceptions of Islam,” Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki said.
He was referring to Indonesia, Turkey, Pakistan and Qatar, whose representatives met Tuesday with Hishammuddin on the sidelines of an international aerospace and maritime show in Langkawi, Kedah state.
“God willing, all these countries will participate in the King Salman Center for International Peace initiative.”
Analyst has doubts
The center will only reap the fruits of its labor if its concept is practiced in other Southeast Asia countries, said Azmi Hassan, a geo-political expert at the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia.
“Look at IS propaganda. It has a simple but extremely effective narrative, taking advantage of poor Muslims in Mindanao who were sidelined by Manila,” he told BenarNews.
“That is why it is crucial that the center must work with local and regional organizations that would understand the plight of these people who have been influenced.”