Malaysia moves to pre-empt possible terror attacks

Malaysia is accelerating security efforts to combat growing Islamic militancy at home, in the wake of last Wednesday's deadly attack on a French satirical magazine that some accuse of blaspheming Islam.

This comes as Malaysian leaders warned that the country could find itself facing a terror incident such as the one in Paris where gunmen killed 12 people.

As police stepped up security at major checkpoints, Prime Minister Najib Razak said at the weekend that enforcement agencies would share intelligence with foreign counterparts and a new anti- terror law with wider preventive powers would be introduced in March.

"The point here is to take action before an attack can happen," Datuk Seri Najib was quoted as saying by The Sunday Star.

A crackdown on suspected extremists last year nabbed nearly 50 Malaysians with alleged links to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant network.

At least 39 Malaysians were confirmed to have travelled to the Middle East to join ISIS fighters and at least five have returned.

There are fears that returning fighters could pose a security threat.

The tentatively titled Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota) will give counter-terror agents power to "incapacitate and convict terrorists before they strike", according to the New Straits Times.

Under the proposed legislation, trials can be held in a closed court to allow intelligence to be disclosed without compromising field secrets. A suspect's remand period is expected to be lengthened from 28 to 60 days - or even up to two years, the same length of time that is provided for under the former Internal Security Act.

The government last November also said Pota could allow for preventive detention and the revoking of passports of those involved in militant activities.

Police have complained that the burden of proof was currently too high to convict many suspects, who operate largely through digital media, making it difficult to pin them to evidence.

"It would be naive to discount the possibility of an attack since actors are increasingly autonomous and disparate. We are in the age of DIY terrorism," said Ms Elina Noor, assistant director for foreign policy and security studies at Malaysia's Institute of Strategic and International Studies.

Already, fears of follow-up attacks or an anti-Muslim backlash have prompted France to deploy 10,000 security personnel around the country from today.

New York City police were on alert yesterday after someone re-released a message from last September urging ISIS followers to "rise up and kill intelligence officers, police officers, soldiers, and civilians", naming the US, France, Australia and Canada.

As for the Malaysians returning from Syria, Ms Elina said they could spur recruitment and attacks on Malaysian soil, but could also provide the authorities with valuable intelligence.

This article was first published on January 13, 2015.
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