KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia is on high alert for fleeing militants after Iraqi government forces claimed victory against the Islamic State group in Mosul and Raqqa.
Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein on Monday (Jul 10) said intelligence reports indicate that foreign Islamic State (IS) fighters fleeing the Middle East are planning to shift their bases to Southeast Asia.
Speaking at the ruling party UMNO’s Cheras divisional meeting in Kuala Lumpur, he declared IS the No 1 enemy of the government.
Rallying the party rank and file to unite against the militant group, Hishammuddin, who is also UMNO vice president, said the successful offensive against the group in Mosul, Raqqa and Aleppo have sent scores of militants fleeing the Middle East.
Due to this, Malaysia must be on the highest alert.
"What happened in Middle East has a direct impact here," said Hishammuddin. "Yesterday (Jul 9), they claimed they were no more Islamic State elements in Mosul and Raqqa following their offensives.
"The question is where did they go? This we need to monitor."
Given the urgency of the matter, Hishammuddin said he will be visiting Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain this week to obtain the latest intelligence reports on the militants and their whereabouts.
"They (IS) have already announced that they want to establish in places including Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines," he said. "This is not something new if that's their agenda.
"This area will be their focus, every country in ASEAN will have to look at this seriously."
Meanwhile, Malaysia has stepped up border security at all entry points especially along the east coast of Sabah.
Additional military assets have also been dispatched to areas around hotspots in the Sulu Sea, as an ongoing military crackdown against militants in Marawi, southern Philippines, continues.
ISLAMIC STATE A POLITICISED ISSUE IN MALAYSIA?
The opposition has accused the government of politicising the threat of IS, as the Malaysian general election approaches.
The UMNO divisional meetings kicked off on Jul 7, and will run until Aug 26, ahead of a crucial general election that must be held by mid-next year. Hishammuddin has sought to unite the party that has gone through an upheaval the past couple of years, with infighting that resulted in the departure of former deputy president Muhyiddin Yassin and vice president Shafie Apdal.
Former UMNO president Mahathir Mohamad has also quit the party and is now chairing opposition party Bersatu in a bid to topple Prime Minister Najib Razak in the coming polls.
"UMNO, BN, we may not be perfect, but at least we have the track record,” said Mr Hishammuddin had said on Sunday. “Especially in this challenging world we live in today, this is why I talk about issues related to Daesh and IS."
The opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat's (PKR) Vice President Nurul Izzah rebutted this claim. In a statement, she said the UMNO government’s record in fighting the Islamic State group was questionable.
Since the security offences special measures act (SOSM) was introduced five years ago, 979 suspects have been arrested, but only 177 of the arrests were IS-related, she said, adding that, of whom, 43 were foreigners.
“Let’s face it, anti-terror law is this country is used more as a political tool to stifle dissent,” she said. Nurul also claimed that the percentage of Malaysians joining IS was six times higher than Indonesia.
Malaysia counter terror chief Ayob Khan said so far eight Malaysians have returned from Syria and Iraq since 2014. They were all arrested and went through rehabilitation.
Former university lecturer-turn-militant Mahmud Ahmad is believed to be in Marawi, siding with Islamist militants. He is said to be leading the Maute militants after their leader Isnilon Hapilon was reportedly killed.
According to Hishammuddin, four Malaysians in Marawi have died since the crackdown in Marawi.
Ayob added that authorities are constantly monitoring the Islamic State situation together with regional counterparts.