Abdul Hamid Bador, the 61-year-old son of a constable, took over recently as inspector-general of police, where he leads the 131,000 men and women who comprise the Royal Malaysia Police force.
He had retired four years ago after the government of then-Prime Minister Najib Razak effectively demoted him after he spoke out against a corruption scandal tied to 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a state fund founded by Najib in 2009.
Abdul Hamid was reinstated to the federal police force as deputy chief by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, soon after the Pakatan Harapan coalition ousted Najib’s government in the May 2018 general election. On May 3 of this year, he succeeded Mohamad Fuzi Harun under a two-year contract, even though Abdul Hamid had surpassed the mandatory retirement age of 60.
On Friday, Malaysia’s top cop sat for an interview with BenarNews where he discussed concerns ranging from racial tensions linked to social media, counter-terrorism efforts, border security, and Malaysian Islamic State fighters and their families who had joined IS in Syria and Iraq.
He also answered questions about the Malaysia-Indonesia link to suicide bombers who attacked a church in the southern Philippines in January, an internal police investigation, the alleged enforced disappearances of a Christian clergyman and a Shia Muslim activist, and radical Indian Muslim preacher Zakir Naik who is being investigated over alleged inflammatory remarks.
Here are excerpts from the interview:
Security concerns and racial tensions
BenarNews: What is Malaysia’s top security concern?
Abdul Hamid Bador: The rise in cases involving public debate and comments in social media that unnecessarily invite negative reactions from one race against another. … As I have said, I am not going to warn anyone anymore. A special team is scrutinizing all social media and once they detect anything that fits into the commission of any offense, they will immediately lodge a police report. [Police] will try to identify the culprit and we will take the necessary action.
BN: How many reports have been lodged related to these concerns?
AHB: About 1,053. Most centered around Zakir Naik.
BN: What is the status of the Zakir Naik case?
AHB: The investigation paper was sent to the attorney general but he has given few instructions so we are still working on the case.
BN: Does this mean people cannot voice their opinions on social media?
AHB: No. I, for one, encourage and uphold the principle of freedom of speech and expression. … So as long as a healthy debate is going on within the confines of the constitution, that is OK.
BN: Do you see a change in the terrorism threat?
AHB: Whatever incident is happening outside the country, we will try to learn from it so we can prevent it from happening in our country. Things that happened in Indonesia and the Philippines always attract our attention so we can learn from them. Also, we are preparing for returnees from Syria.
BN: Regarding those returnees, some argue we should not take them back. How do you respond?
AHB: … Because they are Malaysians we have to bring them back to face justice here. We cannot ignore them or else we will be criticized by the United Nations. … If the returnees are active combatants, we will take action under the current law to detain them.
BN: Indonesia and the Philippines have seen female suicide bombers. Are you concerned that some women who have been in Syria and are expected to return have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State or local terror groups?
ABH: As we receive returnees from Iraq and Syria, our counterparts in Turkey and Qatar will feed us with intelligence on how deep was their involvement with IS. If they went there as simply housewives, they will be subjected to something similar to administrative detention.
Malaysia is lucky in some sense when it comes to the terror threat compared to our neighbors. Indonesia is too big, too porous with thousands of islands. Compared to Indonesia, we have a smaller area and with due diligence and hard work, our counter terrorism unit can prevent any untoward incident from happening.
I am not saying the special branch is super-efficient, we are just lucky. At the same time, we have doubled our efforts to enhance safety and security in Malaysia.
BN: What are your border security concerns?
AHB: One thing we are focusing on is the encroachment of Vietnamese fishermen/boats into our waters along the East Coast of the South China Sea. … So with the cooperation of the Malaysia Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA), the fisheries department and marine police, we doubled our efforts and managed to conduct many arrests and seizures involving Vietnamese boats.
… MMEA, along with marine police strengthened their presence in Sabah waters. Efforts to track down tips about kidnap-for-ransom groups along the East Coast of Sabah continue and have resulted in many successes and arrests. Those arrested will be charged and those without documents will be deported back to the Philippines.
… Before we have a permanent structure, we are focusing on mobility and the ability to block escape routes, to engage with the kidnappers while they are on the run. … We have dozens of check points along the coasts. At each checkpoint there could be up to 30 security personnel.
BN: How do you respond to Sabah becoming a transit point for foreign terrorists, and what steps have been taken since the Jolo church suicide bombing?
AHB: We can’t do much except improve our intelligence coverage and with Indonesian intelligence help. That is why we find that the mechanics of having trilateral communications among Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines are very important.
BN: What is your take on alleged enforced disappearances and Suhakam (the National Human Rights Commission) releasing its own findings?
ABH: We welcome the special team’s investigation and I will assist them. ... They came to see me last month and I pledged my readiness to assist.
Suhakam can say anything, but instead of making public announcement they should hand the report to the government. … As far as I am concerned as the new IGP, I would like to have faith and believe that kidnappings/abductions were not done by police.
BN: Will there be an internal investigation?
ABH: There is already an investigation but we are postponing it for now to allow a (six-member Royal Commission of Inquiry) to convene. It does not mean that we closed the case because if there is any new evidence, we will investigate.
BN: Is the current political climate worsening tensions?
AHB: No. I think independence month (marking the Aug. 31 anniversary) has eased the tension a bit as Malaysians share their messages of patriotism on social media, and even the mainstream media played up patriotic issues.
BN: You warned the previous government about potential corruption involving 1Malaysia Development Berhad, what is your reaction to seeing former Prime Minister Najib Razak’s trials?
ABH: I am relieved that the case finally got to court. I always said I suspected there was something wrong with the 1MDB, and I received information of robbery and theft. What I said has been confirmed by the decision to bring charges.
BN: How are you dealing with allegations of corruption among the police force?
ABH: … Our internal team from the Integrity and Standards Compliance Department has been actively conducting checks to determine if any members of the force are involved in gambling, drug abuse and corruption. Hundreds have been arrested.
Now we are asking from the government more manpower. … I’m asking for 1,000 additional personnel to check on the 131,000-member force.
Abdul Hamid Bador’s future
BN: How long do you think you will serve as IGP?
ABH: I’m looking forward to leaving as soon as possible. Honestly I don’t foresee staying long.
What the government has given me, two years is more than enough … if I can start the ball rolling. When I find the right time for me to leave even if it is before the contract ends, I will leave.
I did not ask for this position. Even when people said I would become IGP, I said it was not possible. But when Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad asked, I couldn’t say no.
… At this juncture as everyone clamors for a better and clean police force, clean ministry, clean government, of course I feel that it is my duty to make it work.