The ‘New Straits Times’ front-page report on July 9.

KUALA LUMPUR: As if “home-grown” militants are not a big enough problem, Malaysia could soon face a bigger problem as the Islamic State terror group shifts its focus to Southeast Asia from Iraq and Syria.

With IS losing ground in the two Middle Eastern countries, the fear is that foreign militants will head to this region, leaving Malaysia to face a serious threat.

Counter-terrorism experts fear that these foreign fighters, many of whom are not identified, might become “ghost” terror operatives in destination countries.

These militants are battle-hardened fighters who possess vast experience in handling weapons and explosives.

“From the looks of it, IS is going to be just like al-Qaeda. Their fighters are losing ground in Iraq and Syria by the day, and at the rate things are going there, IS has started to disperse its operatives to gain wider footing.

“This can be seen from the recent spike of terror attacks com-
mitted by IS and their sympa-
thisers in other countries,” a source close to Malaysian counter-terrorism operations told the New Straits Times.

The source said identifying foreign fighters would be a big problem for the authorities.

“In the case of local militants or those from neighbouring countries, like Indonesia, it might be easier as many of them are on the authorities’ radar or known to intelligence agencies.

“But, it is different with foreign fighters from other regions like the Middle East and Europe. Although there is information on the identities of some of them, we fear that many others have not made it onto the list.”

Counter-terrorism and intelligence expert Ahmad El-Muhammady, an adviser to the federal police in its anti-terrorism drives, told Channel News Asia (CNA) recently that IS’s presence was growing in Southeast Asia to make up for losing ground in Syria and Iraq.

“The area controlled by (IS) is shrinking and this has a psychological impact on them. Even among cyber troopers, people are asking questions about what’s going on now.

“How does IS maintain support? They have to go to the second ring of conflict, their neighbouring countries, or the third ring of conflict, which is Southeast Asia,” Ahmad told CNA.

CNA also cited a report in May that stated that the United States Department of Defence officials had said that IS “had lost about 45 per cent of the territory it claimed in Iraq and about 10 per cent of land it had held in Syria”.

Counter-terrorism experts see the latest IS move as a “natural progression” of sorts from earlier developments, wherein IS called on those from Southeast Asia intending to join the terror group in the Middle East to instead go to southern Philippines.

The NST reported last month that Malaysian terrorists in the Philippines had established a new battalion called Katibah Al-Muhajir to continue their extremist struggles.

The new IS arm was created, Singapore-based terrorism expert Dr Rohan Gunaratna had said, to persuade supporters and sympathisers to join the IS cause.

“IS said that those (intending to join IS) from Southeast Asia need not (go) to Syria and Iraq if it is difficult, and that (it was better) for them to go to the Philippines,” he had said.

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