U.S., Malaysia Boost Counterterrorism Cooperation

Nani Yusof

2015-10-08
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151008-MY-ZAHID620.JPG Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shake hands in Washington, Oct. 8, 2015.
Courtesy U.S. State Department

The United States confirmed Thursday that it would establish a regional center in Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur to fight the Islamic State (IS) group’s extremist propaganda online.

The confirmation was given by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during talks with Deputy Malaysian Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi in Washington, Zahid told reporters, underscoring closer cooperation between the two nations in counterterrorism efforts.

Zahid and Kerry signed a document at the U.S. State Department aimed at enabling Malaysians to travel to the United States without having to first secure a visa.

Under the document, known as the Homeland Security Presidential Directive No 6 (HSPD-6), one of the statutory requirements for the Visa Waiver Program, the two countries would cooperate more closely in combating the threat posed by “foreign terrorist fighters, including ISIL,” Zahid said. The IS is also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Zahid said Kerry “confirmed today that Malaysia is going to [host] the center” to counter messaging from IS.”

“They [U.S.] will help in three aspects – training, equipment and the operational approach,” he said. “The center will be located in Kuala Lumpur.”

“We have a joint working committee to [discuss] details,” said Zahid, who was earlier briefed by the CIA on the IS threat, among other regional issues.

He believed the regional center would be similar to the one already established by the United States in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Southeast Asian Partners

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak told a summit on countering IS recently that Malaysia was considering setting up a “regional, digital counter-messaging center” as Southeast Asia lacked such a facility.

Two weeks ago, Malaysia became one of the newest members of the U.S.-led Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, joining Singapore as the only Association of Southeast Asian Nation(ASEAN) states in the grouping so far.

The UAE’s Sawab Center based in Abu Dhabi is aimed at helping both the U.S. and the Middle East country to counter IS’s propaganda in social media in a bid to stem the extremist group’s recruitment of new fighters.

The Coalition is working to erode IS’s appeal “by strengthening capabilities to counter the group’s messages of hate,” the White House said recently.  The UAE-based Sawab Center is “increasing online debate to undermine” IS’s “claims to legitimacy and strategic success.”

Zahid said social media was a key medium used by IS in attracting fighters, particularly in Syria and Iraq.

“I wish to confirm that empirical studies show that social media accounts for 87 percent of those who are influenced and attracted by terrorist groups,” he said.

Database

Under the HSPD-6 document, he said, the United States would share information with Malaysia about some 86,000 suspected terrorists included in a Washington-based database.

Malaysia would also provide information about suspected terrorists held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) introduced in April this year and which enables authorities to detain terror suspects without trial for a period of two years, Zahid said.

“Previously, we use Interpol as the channel of information but now we will get directly from the United States… in order for us to take immediate action to prevent as well as to curb problem pertaining to terrorism activities.”

Zahid also said the United States would be among countries invited to attend an international conference next January focused on forging a regional response to combating terrorism.

The conference on deradicalization in the ASEAN region on Jan. 25-26 would include the 10 ASEAN states as well as the organization’s eight dialogue partners – the United States, China, South Korea, Japan, India, Australia, New Zealand and Russia.

It is part of a bid to develop a “template” and “standards” for programs to combat terrorism that are accepted internationally, Zahid said.

He said Malaysia was in the “forefront” of efforts to help the international community in the fight against terrorism.

Officials in Malaysia and neighboring Indonesia say they have been grappling with the threat of IS targeting local youths as potential recruits via social media.

Premier Najib said recently that the Malaysian government has been working aggressively to stop IS members from plotting attacks on home soil or transiting through the country en route to the Middle East.

He noted that authorities in his country had arrested more than 100 people suspected of having ties to IS.

Malaysian media reported recently that three Malaysian jihadists had been killed in action in the war zone in Syria and Iraq, bringing to 14 the number of Malaysians killed while fighting for IS.

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