Malaysia Has Blocked IS-linked Al Fatihin Website: Police Chief

S. Adie Zul and Ismira Lutfia
2016.07.19
Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta
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fatihan-pageone-620.JPG This screenshot shows the banner of the first edition of al-Fatihin, an e-newspaper published by Islamic State’s Southeast Asian wing.
BenarNews

Malaysian authorities have blocked a website that disseminated an electronic newspaper published by the Southeast Asian wing of the extremist group Islamic State (IS), Malaysia’s police chief told BenarNews on Tuesday.

The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), which regulates internet inside the country, has blocked alfatihin.com, the website associated with the e-publication by the same name, Police Inspector-General Khalid Abu Bakar confirmed.

“Yes, we did request the MCMC to block it and it has since not been accessible here. We will continue to monitor it,” Khalid said.

Meanwhile, officials in neighboring Indonesia suggested that the creators of the IS-backed website may have been blocked it themselves. The site, seen by BenarNews earlier, is also inaccessible in Thailand, which has a large Muslim population concentrated in its insurgency-wracked Deep South region, and other countries including the United States.

In Malaysia last week, Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak announced that the MCMC had blocked 11 websites and 22 URLs allegedly involved in propagating the ideology of IS in the Malay language – variations of which are spoken in Malaysia, Indonesia, southern Thailand, Brunei and the southern Philippines.

The commission also called on the public to report any websites that promote IS or help spread its propaganda, and has set up a hotline so people can tip off authorities to such sites.

“It is hoped that continuous monitoring and action by MCMC and other agencies will contain the spread of the ideology by this terrorist organization through social media,” state-run news agency Bernama quoted the minister as saying.

According to reports, the 20-page electronic newspaper version of Al Fatihin was published on June 20 by Katibah Nusantara, IS’s Southeast Asian wing that has a combat unit in Syria and Iraq made up exclusively of Malaysian, Indonesians and other Malay-speaking fighters.

“This is part of the IS strategy and propaganda to suggest to the world that they have a strong support in southeast Asia region, where there are significant populations of Muslims such as in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei,” Zaini Othman, who directs the Center for Strategic and Security Studies at Universiti Malaysia Sabah, told BenarNews.

‘The conquerors’

In Indonesia, computer users can no longer access the Al Fatihin website, but users there and in other countries can access a PDF version of the newspaper via the Internet Archive website – through which BenarNews obtained a copy.

“We didn't block the website. If it is inaccessible now, it could be that they [the owner] blocked it themselves,” Ismail Cawidu, a spokesman for the Indonesian Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, told BenarNews on Tuesday.

“Al Fatihin” is Arabic for “The conquerors.”

The Malay-language tagline beneath the banner (pictured) describes the publication as a newspaper for Malay speakers who have migrated to IS’s self-proclaimed state in territory that the group controls in Syria and Iraq.

The first edition of the newspaper featured articles including a report praising the deaths of scores of Philippine soldiers who were killed during a military operation targeting an IS-linked group in the southern Philippines – a hotbed of Islamic militant activity – and a report about a battalion of the local Abu Sayyaf Group that pledged allegiance IS.

‘IS is losing ground’: analyst

According to security experts in the region, Islamic State is trying to increase its reach in Southeast Asia through the dissemination of the newspaper and other propaganda materials, and is targeting Muslim readers in Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore and southern Thailand.

“IS is losing ground and manpower [in the Middle East]. It needs more public attention for new recruits, and it needs to consolidate support from terrorist groups to conduct attacks in their name, which in turn drives their propaganda,” Muhammad Haziq Jani, a research analyst with the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research in Singapore, who recently co-authored an academic paper on the publication of IS’s first Malay-language newspaper, told BenarNews.

S. Sundramoorthy, an assistant professor in criminology at University Science of Malaysia, agreed that the newspaper was a new recruiting tool for IS, which has aggressively reached out to potential recruits in Southeast Asia via social media.

“The goal remains the same – to recruit supporters in the region and … rural folks in Southeast Asia who lack [access to information technology],” Sundramoorthy told BenarNews.

“They have adopted strategies commonly used by business entities to promote their products or services through all possible tools, including the print media, to promote their ideology,” he added.

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