Rise in ISIS-linked arrests raises alert in M'sia, Latest World News - The New Paper

Rise in ISIS-linked arrests raises alert in M'sia

This article is more than 12 months old

Malaysia police are calling on religious authorities to stem growing extremist ideology

From four in 2013, the number of people arrested in Malaysia for involvement with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) ballooned to 119 last year, in sync with a rising level of alarm.

Malaysian police are calling on religious authorities to play their part in stemming the rise of extremist ideology after last year saw the first attack on Malaysian soil.

Eight people were injured when a grenade was lobbed at a nightspot near Kuala Lumpur last June.

Still, counter-terrorism forces are concerned that despite having foiled 14 planned attacks - 122 people charged, with 62 found guilty - since 2013, their efforts could be overwhelmed if the number of ISIS agents and sympathisers continues to mushroom.

The term "jihad" has long been a convenient one used by national leaders, both political and religious, when seeking to convince Muslims to vote a particular way or support a particular cause.

It is also used in Friday sermons at state-run mosques by clerics warning against Western and liberal influences.

Local authorities now say "experts" are teaching in mosques and even Islamic schools and universities that supporting an armed struggle is justified when a fellow Muslim is being oppressed.

Although a religious edict banning involvement in ISIS was issued in 2014 by the National Fatwa Council, the country's top body of clerics, religious authorities seem unable to keep tabs on what is being taught in mosques, madrasahs and Islamic centres, thousands of them built by the government itself.

Given the porous nature of digital communications, which allow users in different countries to chat with each other, militant Islam could spread uncontrollably in the region.

There are already intelligence reports of terrorist networks, such as ISIS, seeking to bring together splinter groups and cells in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, whose members are willing to give life and limb for a "righteous" cause.