KUALA LUMPUR - The terror threat in Malaysia has reached a new level - the link between foreign and local fighters via social media has led to greater funding for terrorism activities.
And now the foreign militants are trying to influence local political parties through their members.
On Wednesday, prime minister Najib Razak tabled a White Paper in the Parliament, which detailed the "real threat" that terrorist groups like Islamic State (IS) and others in the region present to Malaysia.
Home minister Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the White Paper touches on proposed measures to combat and prevent terrorism.
"The threat is real and we hope this (White Paper) will create more awareness on both sides of the political divide and Malaysians as a whole.
"If they (IS) can kill among Muslims, then they are able to kill non-Muslims (also).
"People must be alerted (to this) and precautions should be taken," he said in an exclusive interview at the Putra World Trade Centre on Nov 24.
Dr Ahmad Zahid said Najib also touched on the involvement of Malaysians in terror cells and the need to amend existing laws or introduce new ones to combat terrorism.
Saying the ministry had looked at these options, he added: "We will either strengthen the seven existing laws by amending the clauses or propose a new Anti-Terrorism Act as a preventive measure.
"If introduced, the new Act will complement Sosma (the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act) and PCA (the Prevention of Crime Act)," he said.
Previously, the government tabled White Papers on the Al-Ma'unah group and the Baling incident involving supporters of a religious group.
"This time around, the foreign threat is real and the threat from within is also real," stressed Dr Ahmad Zahid.
"What is worse now is that Malaysian fighters are connected to foreign fighters and this poses a whole new level of threat."
Dr Ahmad Zahid said national security was under threat because IS manipulated Islamic teaching to justify their goals to overthrow a democratic government by military force and declaring it was permissible to use force to establish an Islamic State as in accordance with their own interpretation of what constituted the Islamic State.
"This force includes killing Muslims and non-Muslims who refuse to be subjected to their version of the Islamic State."
Dr Ahmad Zahid, who is Umno vice-president, hoped the White Paper would be debated sincerely by Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat MPs.
"The important thing is for us to work together… It is about the security of the country," he said, adding that MPs should be united in the interest of national security.
He said Bukit Aman had identified some 100 Malaysians involved in extremist actions.
"However, we fear the number might increase if preventive measures are not taken.
"That is why we are also monitoring social media on two fronts - the recruitment of Malaysians and the terror cells getting more donations and funding."
Dr Ahmad Zahid was firm that Malaysia was not being used as a launching or training ground for terror cells because of the strict monitoring by the authorities here.
"Terror groups prefer neighbouring countries but we are working with Aseanapol and Interpol to prevent them from increasing their membership," he said.
So far, Bukit Aman has said 39 Malaysians were involved with militant groups in Syria and Iraq, especially IS.
"Five have returned to Malaysia. Three have been arrested and two others are still under investigation," he said.
Dr Ahmad Zahid added that threats against Malaysia were constantly evolving as local militants were working with those from southern Thailand, southern Philippines and other parts in the region.
"The militants are trying to not only get new recruits but also trying to strengthen their organisations.
"They are also trying to influence other organisations, including political parties, which we are monitoring, though we don't have hard evidence yet.
"We discovered that the militants were trying to influence political parties through their members and not the leadership," he said, adding that the Umno leadership has said it would not endorse any member who promoted IS.