PETALING JAYA - Universities and colleges in Malaysia have become breeding grounds for militants and are now smack on the radar of terrorism investigators.
The inclusion of University of Malaya Islamic Studies Faculty lecturer Dr Mahmud Ahmad, 35, in the latest wanted list of suspected militants has placed institutions of higher learning under greater scrutiny.
While foreign students are using them to network with terror groups, colleges and universities are also hubs for recruitment and "talent-spotting" for potential militants.
Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the Special Branch Counter Terrorism Division was monitoring the covert recruitment process, as universities might not be aware of what was going on.
He said the Government knew foreigners were using tertiary institutions as launching pads and indoctrination bases.
"We are not only looking at student visas but other passes as well, including work permits. Those with refugee status will also not be exempted from surveillance," he said yesterday.
Dr Ahmad Zahid said these people were also being identified through collaboration with other intelligence agencies.
"We are facing a new trend of terrorism with the use of modern technology and renewed calls for jihad by international terrorist groups," he added.
He said the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis) - now known simply as Islamic State - was attracting Malaysian youths who had been led to believe in heavenly rewards for their "jihad".
He said these radicals were targeting youths by spreading extreme ideas on cyberspace via chat forums and on social media.
"Traditional means of recruitment like talent spotting are also still being used while indoctrination is done through religious gatherings and usrah (secret meetings)," he said.
Dr Ahmad Zahid said the Home Ministry had deported 67 foreigners of various nationalities suspected of being involved in militant activities in Malaysia and abroad since 2009.
Those sent back include members of Somalia's Al-Shabaab and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Dr Ahmad Zahid said most of them were operating under the cover of being students in local institutions of higher learning.
"There are also militants working in local industries and business circles," he said.
Dr Ahmad Zahid said the ministry had implemented several initiatives, including the Advanced Passengers Screening System and the Foreign Workers Centralised Management System to further check the influx of such people.
"We are also working with the Education Ministry and other departments on this," he said.
"We have arrested 16 people under Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma) since it was gazetted in 2012. Currently, six are facing militant charges."