Malaysia Adopts US Electronic Data System to Track Suspected Terrorists

Nani Yusof
190917-MY-AS-Muhyiddin1000.jpg Former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin answers questions during a news conference in Kuala Lumpur, March 3, 2016.

Malaysia is developing a new immigration system to incorporate the screening of passenger data in preventing terrorists from entering or leaving the country, Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said.

Muhyiddin, who arrived in the United States on Sunday for a weeklong official visit, told a forum in Washington on Monday that Malaysia would implement the Advance Passenger Information System, an electronic data interchange used by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

As part of that mechanism, Kuala Lumpur will also adopt the database of computer reservations known as Passenger Name Record, a system used by the airline and travel industries, Muhyiddin said.

“Both applications are being integrated into the new immigration system, which is now being developed by Malaysia’s Immigration Department,” the state-run news agency Bernama quoted Muhyiddin as saying.

Muhyiddin did not explain when Malaysia would start implementing the system.

In March last year, an American official told a counter-terrorism conference in Washington that the Islamic State (IS) extremist group had started using a decentralized network of militants to spread bloodshed across the globe.

At the two-day conference, attended by experts from 90 countries and organizations, measures to defeat IS were adopted, including biometric screening and using information that people send out to book airline tickets, according to Ambassador Nathan Sales, the U.S. State Department’s coordinator for counter-terrorism.

“I think what we’re seeing is ISIS becoming increasingly decentralized,” Sales told reporters, using another acronym for IS. “We’re seeing a decentralized network fan out across the globe to continue the bloody work.”

The United States is developing responses with its partner nations in Southeast Asia, he said, including information-sharing and exchanging data about known and suspected terrorists.

Passenger name records, or PNR – which consist of standard personal information given to an airline at the time of booking and through emails – have become powerful anti-terrorism tools for the United States, Sales said.

The system would help security analysts identify travel patterns of suspected terrorists and reveal connections with unknown associates, he said.

Member states of the United Nations were required to use PNR after the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 2396 in December 2018, urging nations to develop watch lists or databases of known and suspected terrorists, Sales said.

The resolution encouraged member states to share such information through bilateral mechanisms to law enforcement and border security.

The Security Council adopted the resolution three months before a U.S.-backed alliance of Syrian fighters defeated IS in its last pocket of territory in Syria, raising fears among governments that their battle-hardened citizens who fought for the militant group could pose a security threat by attempting to return home.

According to the United Nations, more than 40,000 foreign fighters from 110 countries might have travelled to join terror groups in Syria and Iraq. That figure includes 800 from Indonesia and 154 from Malaysia, according to security analysts.

More than 11,000 foreign women and children related to IS suspects are being held in appalling conditions in a locked desert camp in northeast Syria, according to a July 2019 Human Rights Watch report. It said at least 7,000 of the children were younger than 12.

The United States and other countries have largely refused to reclaim their nationals.


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