A bioterrorism expert on Friday became Malaysia's first female counterterror chief, taking the helm of the Muslim-majority nation's agency in charge of fighting threats from Islamic State, al-Qaeda and other violent extremist groups.
Police Inspector-General Abdul Hamid Bador confirmed Normah Ishak’s appointment as the police branch’s new chief. She succeeds Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, her former boss who was promoted to chief of police in southern Johor state after heading the federal police’s counterterrorist force since 2016.
Abdul Hamid described Normah as “a highly qualified, very experienced, [and] tough professional of high integrity, and an excellent commander.”
“She is a gutsy officer and there is no doubt she will carry out the task given to her to the best of her ability,” the national police chief told BenarNews late Friday. “On top of that, the division has dozens of equally determined and very experienced officers.”
The appointment took effect at 11 a.m. Friday.
Abdul Hamid said one of Normah’s first tasks would be to deal with the potential return of 56 Malaysians stranded in Syria, including families of fighters who had traveled to the region to join the Islamic State (IS) militant group. In January, Ayob said 19 men, 12 women, 17 boys and eight girls were living in refugee camps or were on the run in Syria after the military defeat of IS in the region last year.
Previously, the government reported that 120 Malaysians had traveled to Syria since 2014 to engage in terrorist activities.
Normah, who joined the police force in 1991, was appointed as Ayob’s deputy in 2016, the year of the first attack claimed by IS in the Southeast Asian nation.
Malaysian IS terrorist Muhammad Wanndy Mohamed Jedi masterminded a grenade attack that injured eight people at a pub in the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur on June 28, 2016, officials said. A year later, Wanndy was killed in a drone strike near Raqqa, Syria.
While working under Ayob, Normah assisted in foiling terrorist plots by al-Qaeda in foreign countries with the arrest of foreigners, including five Egyptians, who were part of the Muslim Brotherhood in February 2019.
Normah could not immediately be reached for comment.
A source at federal police headquarters in Kuala Lumpur said she was the right person to lead the counterterrorism unit.
“She is a woman, but gender has nothing to do with how one executes the task given. She is capable of carrying out the task as counterterror chief. She is very strict but humble,” the source told BenarNews, adding that the unit’s officers would respect her.
Nisha David in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.