PETALING JAYA - Malaysia is facing twin threats - from discontented local militants and extremist foreign students in local colleges.
Prof Dr Mohd Kamarulnizam Abdullah, director of Universiti Utara Malaysia's Research Institute for Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore (UUM-ITS), said the local militants perceived that their Islamic faith was under attack while foreign students from the Middle East and African countries were using Malaysia as a safe base for their militant networks.
"The trends are worrying although there is no indication yet that the country is being targeted," Prof Kamarulnizam said.
"We are tourist friendly, and perhaps too welcoming of outsiders and we have ended up opening the floodgates to foreigners with radical backgrounds."
He said there was a possibility that Malaysian militants could target individuals who they believed had belittled or attacked Islam, similar to what was done by the Kumpulan Mujahideen Malaysia (KMM).
KMM, which was set up in 1995, wanted a Daulah Islam Nusantara, a regional Islamic state, encompassing Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, south Thailand and part of the Philippines.
"It was created supposedly to protect Islam.
"These days, we are again seeing a tense situation in society, with some Muslims feeling their religion is under attack by some quarters in the country," he said.
"This could give rise to groups like KMM and if these militants in our midst choose to act, they may target those seen as belittling Islam."
KMM members were linked to several crimes, including the murder of Lunas assemblyman Dr Joe Fernandez in 2002.
They were also responsible for the bombing of a church and a Hindu temple and an attack on the Guar Chempedak police station in Kedah on Feb 4, 2001.
Prof Kamarulnizam said that although KMM was neutralised with the arrests of most of its members, such ideology could re-emerge if societal tensions rise over the debate on issues involving Islam.
He said the threat from foreign militants posing as students was also serious and they were also recruiting locals to join their cause.
Among the latest foreigners to be nabbed was a 34-year-old suspected Somali terrorist from the Al-Shabaab group who was on Interpol's wanted list.
On the rising number of Malaysians involved in militancy, Prof Kamarulnizam said most learnt about radical groups through the Internet.
He said they were linked to others who introduced them to militants and helped them in training.
Prof Kamarulnizam said religious piety was not the main quality that militant recruiters looked out for.
"They seek out those who they feel can be easily manipulated into believing in their cause."