MALAYSIA - The Malaysian government has lifted the lid on crime syndicates by listing the names of 49 prominent gangs, with 40,313 active gangsters, as part of a move to show the extent of the menace the police are fighting and to win public support for tougher laws.
There has been widespread public alarm since the homes of Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, the Perlis mufti and a former Negeri Sembilan Menteri Besar were burgled in recent weeks and almost-daily shootings claimed the lives of more than 20 people, including a top banker.
Striking back, the police launched Ops Cantas (Operation Cut-off), conducting raids on nightclubs and the homes of suspects, and putting up roadblocks manned by police commandos. In the past two weeks, more than 1,000 suspected criminals have been nabbed and five shot dead.
Thursday was the first time that Malaysia has released a comprehensive list of criminal gangs and their numbers.
"These groups were found to have provoked a series of gang wars, and carried out murders with firearms and other weapons since they were established," Home Ministry secretary-general Abdul Rahim Mohamad Radzi said at a news conference.
The gangs are involved in drug distribution, extortion and murders with firearms, he added.
The top five are Gang 04, Gang 08, Double 7, Tiga Line and Gang 30, he said, adding that Gang 04 has 5,440 members and Gang 08 has 4,423, most of them Indian.
Operating in Penang, Kedah, Johor and Kuala Lumpur, the gangs - some formed in the 1970s - have been linked to drug sales, strife over control of parking lots and extortion.
Criminologist P. Sundramoorthy of the Malaysian Science University in Penang said the 40,000 figure was not surprising. His studies show violent crimes grew 13.4 per cent a year for a decade starting from 2000. The gangs are also attracting more youth.
"It is extremely important for the public to know that the menace has grown," said Associate Professor Sundramoorthy.
The police are working to bring back the tough Emergency Ordinance (EO) that was repealed last year, with some officials saying in private that the Najib administration should not have given in to pressure from rights groups. The EO, which allowed detention without trial, helped stop crime bosses from roaming free.
However, rights groups and opposition parties have criticised plans to bring it back, saying it was abused by the police, who used it to lock up suspects rather than take them to court.
Attorney-General Abdul Gani Patail said last week that preventive detention had actually failed to stop the rise in violent crimes, and claimed that the police were "addicted" to using the EO.
Prime Minister Najib Razak, when asked whether releasing the list of gangs was a drastic move by the government, said: "It is not a drastic measure. This is our strong stand on the matter to ensure that committed and comprehensive actions have been taken."
The police can now arrest people found using the names, symbols or premises of the 49 gangs and seize their assets, after a law under Section 5 (1) of Malaysia's 1966 Societies Act took effect on Wednesday.
Some of the gangs active in Malaysia
- Gang 04: Active in Kedah, Penang, Johor and Kuala Lumpur.
- Gang 08: Active in Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Penang, Perak, Johor, Negeri Sembilan and Malacca.
- Double 7: Active in the peninsula.
- Tiga Line: Active in 20 areas in Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Kedah and Perak.
- Gang 30: Active in the peninsula.
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