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Malaysia: Analysts Support Call for International Secretariat on De-Radicalization

Muzliza Mustafa
Kuala Lumpur
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Police tape keeps onlookers from entering the site of a grenade attack claimed by the Islamic State, near Kuala Lumpur, June 28, 2016.

Malaysia’s proposal to establish an Interpol-led secretariat for de-radicalizing militants in South and Southeast Asia is drawing support from terrorism experts.

Last week, during a counter-terrorism conference in Bali involving at least 23 countries, Malaysian Home Affairs Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamid proposed setting up a secretariat spearheaded by the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) and whose mission would be to de-radicalize militants at an international level.

At the time, Zahid said that Jürgen Stock, the executive director of the France-based inter-governmental organization, was keen to coordinate the proposal with the U.N. Security Council.

While Interpol officials did not respond to requests from BenarNews for comment on efforts to establish a secretariat, Southeast Asian security experts said such a program would be timely and necessary.

A top Malaysian counterterrorism official familiar with the matter said that Interpol, the world’s largest police organization with 190 member countries, was the right one to work with because of its high-tech capabilities.

“It is probably easier to get more funding to run the program under the secretariat, and Interpol has a better facility to train the officers appointed by the participating countries,” the official who requested anonymity, told BenarNews.

Countering a regional threat

The governments of Malaysia and other countries in Southeast Asia have voiced fears that the influence of extremist group Islamic State is growing in the region and poses a national security threat.

In late June, Malaysia suffered its first IS-claimed terrorist attack, when a grenade was thrown outside a nightclub near Kuala Lumpur, injuring several people who were watching a football match on television.

A few days later, 20 hostages were hacked death at a café in Dhaka, Bangladesh, during a terrorist attack claimed by IS, although local officials have blamed home-grown militants for being behind it. And in January, IS claimed its first attack on Southeast Asian soil, when a suicide squad attacked downtown Jakarta with bombs and guns, four people. The four alleged attackers were also killed in that attack.

Ahmad El-Muhammady, an analyst assisting Malaysian authorities in de-radicalization programs, said the proposal would give participating countries the opportunity to share best practices in de-radicalizing militants.

The analyst at International Islamic University Malaysia hoped the proposal would be carried out discreetly to ensure effectiveness because such programs, he said, tend to be “less effective if overly exposed.”

The art of de-radicalization requires wisdom and a soft approach to connect to a militant’s heart and mind, he told BenarNews.

“It’s not an ordinary program. Our success is due to its low profile and judicious approach,” he said.

Another Malaysian security analyst, Zaini Othman said when establishing such a program the different parties must recognize the relationships among radicalism, capitalism and globalization that are at the root causes of radicalism.

“Technically it is a good proposal. If materialized, it would enhance the efforts to curb and monitor any development of radicalization both domestic and international,” Zaini, who heads the Strategic Security Research  Center at Universiti Malaysia Sabah, told BenarNews.

Rohan Gunaratna, director of the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, agreed.

The proposal is timely because it can help curtail the threat of extremism in South Asia and Southeast Asia, he told BenarNews.

The proposal to include Interpol is essential because it could be a platform for coordination and collaboration among law enforcement authorities worldwide, said Gunaratna, a columnist for BenarNews.

“Law enforcement authorities should build capabilities beyond enforcement to mitigate the rising threat of terrorism and extremism. Without investing in counter radicalization and de-radicalization, the threat will escalate to a point where governments will be overwhelmed,” he said.

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