ISLAMIC TERRORISM IN MALAYSIA
Malaysia is largely a moderate Muslim nation but it has a history of militant Islamic activity. As a whole, the Muslims that live Malaysia are regarded as moderates. There have not been that many home-grown Malaysian terrorists and not many Malaysians passed through the Al-Qaida camps in Afghanistan. Unlike Indonesia and the Philippines there have not been many acts of terror within the country. In August 2004, Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi spoke before a conference of the World Council of Churches about tolerance and the need for the war on terror not to just focus on Muslims.
Malaysia has served as a kind of crossroads for Middle Eastern, Southeast Asian and Central Asian Islamists. Groups in the Philippines and Indonesia have arrangements for their weapons and funding from Al-Qaida and other sources in Malaysia. Islamists have reportedly worked with Chinese underworld figures to obtain weapons and explosives.
Jemaah Islamiiyah established itself using Malaysia as a base. Members of Hezbollah and radical Palestinian groups had regular meetings in Malaysia in the 1990s. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Abu Sayyaf from the Philippines and Laskar Jihad and the Free Aceh Movement from Indonesia are (or were) also believed to be active in Malaysia.
Malaysia is regarded as an attractive haven for terrorists because of its liberal visa policy, modern communications and welcoming environment for Muslims. Described by on U.S. official as a perfect place for terrorist R and R,” is it a place where it is believed terrorists meet and make contact with one another, make deal to purchase weapons and obtain and exchange money.
Some observers regard religious fundamentalism as a potential danger to Malaysia’s domestic security while others argue that religious extremism has been on the wane since 2001. Both the Malaysian government and outside observers contend that there is little terrorist activity in Malaysia but that the country is used as a haven for terrorists from neighboring countries. The government has forcefully cracked down on suspected terrorists and has developed high levels of counterterrorism capability and cooperation with Western governments. However, at least two notable militant groups are believed to have been active in Malaysia since the mid-1990s: the Kumplulan Mujahideen Malaysia (KMM) and Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), which is believed to be active in several countries in Southeast Asia. These two groups are allegedly linked, and the JI is believed to have links to al Qaeda. In 2001 the KMM was found to have possible links with the Pan Malaysian Islamic Party. Malaysian police have allegedly demolished another Islamic militant group called Federal Special Forces of Malaysia (Pasukan Khas Persekutuan Malaysia—PKPM,). Most extremist activity has occurred in the states of Johor, Kedah, Perlis, and Selangor, all on the western side of Peninsular Malaysia. [Source: Library of Congress, 2006]
Thepchai Yong wrote in The Nation, “Malaysian authorities have taken drastic measure to deal with such threats in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks by rounding up about 70 suspected members of a terrorist group, known as KMM, which they claim has links to al-Qaeda. But it's the growing popularity of the opposition Islamic Party of Malaysia, or PAS, that is posing a major worry for the government. Even Badawi admits PAS has struck a chord among rural Malays with its approach centred on religious zeal and a push for strict Islamic law, or hudud, to be implemented in the states of Kelantan and Terengganu near the Thai border which it controls. [Source: Thepchai Yong, The Nation, October 2002]
See Separate Article COMMUNIST INSURGENCY IN MALAYSIA (1946-1989)
Japanese Red Army Hostage Crisis in 1975
In August 1975, five Japanese Red Army members took about 50 people hostage at the AIA the AIA (American Insurance Associates) Building in Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur. The building housed U.S. consul and Swedish charge The hostages included the United States consul and the Swedish chargé d'affaires. The gunmen won the release of five imprisoned comrades and flew with them to Libya. [Source: Wikipedia, Kyodo]
The Japanese Red Army was a militant organisation dedicated to eliminating the Japanese government and monarchy and launching a worldwide revolution. The organisation carried out many attacks and assassinations in the 1970s. The Japanese Red Army members entered the building and captured 53 people and held them hostage for 79 hours.They said they would kill the hostages if Tokyo did not agree to release seven JRA members who were in Japanese prisons.
The Japanese government agreed to the demands, although only five of the prisoners took up the offer of freedom. The prisoners were flown to Kuala Lumpur on a Japan Airlines aircraft, together with a crew of nine. Once the plane landed in Kuala Lumpur, the remaining hostages were handed over. The aircraft then left for Tripoli with the hijackers and former prisoners. Also on board were two Japanese government officials and two Malaysian officials who were there to ensure a safe passage. The JAL crew and government officials were released upon arrival in Libya. As a result of negotiations, JRA successfully obtained the release of five of their leaders imprisoned in Japan and Sweden. They were then flew by a DC-8 aircraft on August 7, 1975 to Libya.
In December 2005, Kyodo reported: “British government files show Malaysian officials were critical of Tokyo's slow response and Japan was frustrated by the lack of assistance from the United States, whose consulate in Kuala Lumpur was targeted by the terrorists. The documents also reveal that the chief Malaysian negotiator was confident he could have eliminated or captured all of the hostage takers at one stage in the ordeal, but feared that doing so would stimulate repeat attacks all over the world. [Source: Kyodo, December 29, 2005]
James Craig, Britain's deputy high commissioner in Kuala Lumpur, recounted a long conversation he had had with the U.S. charge d'affaires at the time following the incident. The American diplomat told him that the chief negotiator during the crisis, Malaysian Interior Minister Tan Sri Ghazali, was "no doubt at times...genuinely irritated by the Japanese." Malaysia was particularly concerned about the time it was taking to persuade JAL to supply an aircraft to transport the prisoners from Japan and then on to Libya.
Craig, summarizing the U.S. diplomat's views for his bosses in London, wrote, "The Japanese minister of transport who came here for the negotiations was disagreeable and the Japanese ambassador was clumsy: he seemed at one stage to reveal that the need to persuade JAL was only a ploy. "During the final negotiations at the airport the Malaysians seemed to suspect that the Japanese were trying some tricks without taking the Malaysians into their confidence -- for example, they wondered whether the insistence on a double (JAL) crew meant that the extra men came from some special unit."
In another conversation, Ghazali told Craig he could have killed or captured all the hijackers during the handover of the remaining hostages at the airport when two hijackers were inside the aircraft and three were outside on the tarmac. At the time, there were 10 Malaysian commandos at the scene. Craig wrote, "He (Ghazali) had only to press the button and the three terrorists on the ground would have been shot by snipers and the 10 policemen would have stormed the aircraft. "Perhaps one or two hostages might have been killed but the terrorists themselves would all have been shot or captured. But he (Ghazali) could not do it: he was haunted by the thought that if he did, Malaysian ambassadors and their families in all parts of the world would have been the victims of Japanese Red Army reprisals." Craig also revealed that another Malaysian official told him that two of the Japanese terrorists had carried grenades en route to Libya, despite assurances that they had gotten rid of all their explosives.
Following the crisis, it is understood that the Libyan authorities did not charge any of the JRA members, several of whom were involved in subsequent terrorist attacks. The terrorists included Haruo Wako, who was this year sentenced to life imprisonment in Tokyo for his role in the 1975 incident. Also involved was Junzo Okudaira who is still on the run. The Japanese Red Army was founded by Fusako Shigenobu in February 1971 and its height was one of the most feared terrorist groups in the world. It has close ties to the Popular Front for Liberation of Palestine.
United States Issues Terrorist Warning for Malaysia in 2003
In May 2003, CNN reported: Citing terrorist activities in Southeast Asia, the U.S. State Department has restated concerns of possible terrorist attacks against American citizens and interests in Malaysia, especially in the eastern state of Sabah. Citizens traveling to the islands and in the coastal areas of eastern Sabah to exercise extreme caution and to be aware of threats from the Abu Sayyaf, a terrorist group based in the southern Philippines. Sabah is close to the southern end of the Philippines. [Source: CNN, May 15, 2003]
In October 2002, the United States designated the Jemaah Islamiyah Islamic (JI) group a terrorist organization. JI is an extremist group linked to al Qaeda and other regional terrorist groups, according to the State Department. JI cells operate throughout Southeast Asia. Since 2001, Malaysian authorities have arrested more than 80 JI members.
Malaysian police and military patrol the eastern coastal region and islands of Sabah. The Malaysian government also has small detachments in various locations, including the Malaysian islands of Sipadan and Pandanan, where armed gunmen kidnapped hostages in 2000, before taking them to islands in the southern Philippines. But the State Department warned that the region is large and remote and that security help might not be readily available.
In December 2005, Associated Press reported: “The U.S. Embassy in Malaysia closed indefinitely Friday following an unspecified security threat. Embassy spokeswoman Kathryn Taylor said the threat was specific to the embassy and “not to American interests in Malaysia in general.” Azman Hassan, police chief of Kuala Lumpur’s Cheras district, said the threat only affects the U.S. embassy and no other embassies were closed. He also declined to give details of the threat.
Kampulan Mujahideen Malaysia (KMM) and Other Terrorist Groups in Malaysia
Kampulan Mujahideen Malaysia (KMM), or Malaysian Mujahideen Group, is a Malaysian group with ties the Al-Qaida-linked regional terror network Jemaah Islamiiyah. KMM has been linked with political assassinations, bank robberies that left several members dead and bombings of temples and churches. Its core members are students and young men trained at Al-Qaida camps in Afghanistan.
Reportedly founded by the son of PAS leader Nik Aziz, KMM was said to have members in all nine state peninsular Malaysia in the early 2000s and has run militant raining camps. It has been linked with two high profile Indonesian ulema, Abubaka Ba’asyir, and Riduan isamuddin, better known a Hambali, a man who has met with Osama bin-Laden and was involved in the Bali bombing.
The KMM’s goal is to create an Islamic state, called Daulah Islamiiah, comprised of Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. The group wants to overthrow the Malaysia government and create an Islamic state. In the early 2000s, it had maybe 100 members and has been involved in bombings, robberies, assassinations. The KMM has worked with Jemaah Islamiyah to plot bombings, rob banks, assassinate a Christian politician and support the attacks against Christians in Indonesia.
An Islamist movement called Dakwah is widespread. Their school attracts Muslim radicals from all over Southeast Asia. The Madrasah Islahiah Diniah is another Islamic school associated with extremism. It is named after a religious teacher who was killed by police trying to launch an uprising. Islamists regard the teacher as a martyr. The government regards him as a zealot who preached violence and hate.
Jemaah Islamiiyah was reportedly behind the assassination of a Malaysia politician in November 2000. It also reportedly helped Al-Qaida find housing in Malaysia for two of the hijackers involved in the attack on the Pentagon on September 11th. Jemaah Islamiiyah was involved in robbing banks in Malaysia to raise money to kill the politician
Jemaah Islamiyah is blamed for the October 2002 nightclub bombings on the Indonesian island of Bali that killed 202 people and a hotel bombing in Jakarta last August that killed 12 people.
See Southeast Asia, Indonesia
In July 2000, 29 members of a Muslim sect called Al-Ma’unah raided two army camps in the northern state of Perak , made off with rocket launchers, more than 100 assault rifles and 1,000 rounds of ammunition. They seized four hostages—killing two of them—before surrendering to police after a long siege at the jungle hideout. The two hostages that were killed were non-Muslims. They were savagely tortured before they were killed. The group reportedly wanted to start a small scale war. Some Malaysians believe the whole thing was staged by the ruling party to discredit the Islamic political party. Nineteen members were found guilty of treason. Two were given death sentences. Others received life-in-prison sentences.
There are worries that there could be an attack on a tanker in the Malacca Straits like the one on a French oil tanker off Yemen in October 2002. There are also concerned that an oil tanker could be hijacked and turned into a huge bomb that could be rammed into a port.
Malaysians participated in the attacks against Christians in the Moluccas in Indonesia.
Al-Qaida Activities in Malaysia
On January 5, 2000, the planners of the attack on the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001 meet in Kuala Lumpur. The meeting was attended by Al-Qaida military planners and two September 11th hijackers who flew to Los Angeles after the meeting and then enrolled in flight schools in San Diego. A critical meeting for the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen also took place in Kuala Lumpur.
A FBI report went as far as saying that Malaysia was a “primary operational launchpad” for the September 11th attacks. The two hijackers, Saudi men, stayed in a condominium of a Yazid Sufats, a former Malaysia army captain, later identified as a key participants in Al-Qaida’s effort to develop a biological weapon and a key Jemaah Islamiiyah operative in Southeast Asia. The so- called 20th hijacker Zacarias Moussaoui, stayed at the same apartment. Yazid was arrested. He and 22 other men, who were also arrested, had trained at camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Yazid admitted helping the hijackers but said he had nothing to with plaining the attacks.
Several army officers have been arrested on charges of involvement with al-Qaida and Jemaah Islamiiyah. They include former Army Lieut. Colonel Abdul Manaf Kamsuri, arrested in February 2003; army captain Yazid Sufaat,arrested in 2002; and an air force sergeant arrested in January 2003. But they are not the only ones with connections to Al-Qaida. By one count “several hundred” Al-Qaida-linked businessmen, bankers, traders and tourists—many of them Arab—either pass through or reside in Malaysia.
Yazid Sufaat, the Al-Qaida-Connected Malaysian Army Captain Bio-Terrorist
Yazid Sufaat is the most high-profile terrorist suspect among about 70 detained in Malaysia in 2004. Associated Press reported: “ Security officials have told AP that Yazid described the chemical and biological weapons program he and Hambali were building for al-Qaeda as being in the "conceptual stages" when their plans were interrupted by the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. [Source: Associated Press, January 28 2004]
Yazid graduated from California State University-Sacramento in 1987 with a biochemistry degree. He returned home and joined the army, reaching captain. After leaving the military and starting a computer business, Yazid began attending religious classes run by Hambali, and was recruited into his budding terror network.
Yazid is accused of allowing Hambali and other top al-Qaeda operatives — including two eventual Sept. 11 hijackers — to use an apartment he owned for meetings in Malaysia in January 2000. He also is accused of giving a false letter of employment to Sept. 11 suspect Zacarias Moussaoui that helped him enter the United States.
Yazid spent seven years in detention without trial after being accused of belonging to Jemaah Islamiyah. He was freed in 2008 when officials said he no longer posed a threat. Yazid worked as a cafeteria operator after his release in 2008. He initially arrested in late 2001 when he returned home from Afghanistan, where he was suspected of working on a biological and chemical weapons program for al-Qaida. Yazid has not spoken publicly about many of the specific accusations against him, but in an interview with news website Malaysiakini last year he said he had met Osama bin Laden before his detention and underwent combat training in Afghanistan. [Source: Sean Yoong, Associated Press, February 7, 2012]
Influences of Foreign Islamic Schools on Malaysian Islamists
A large number of Malaysians have studied at radical Islamic schools in Pakistan. At one time, by one count, they were the largest group of foreigners studying there. They are believed to be at least several thousand of them. At some of these schools, the students have no doubt been indoctrinated with anti-American, pro-Osama-lin-Laden ideology.
Some of those who have attended radical Islamic schools in Pakistan and Indonesia and have returned to Malaysia and founded their own radical schools, some of which have proven links with terrorist groups. One boarding school, or pesantren, was determined to be the southern outpost for Jemaah Islamiah and was shut down.
Combating Terrorism in Malaysia
Suspected terrorists—as well Islamist politicians with no connection to terrorism— have been detained for several years under the Internal Security Act and Sedition Act, which have been used to imprison people without charge for an indefinite length of time.
Mahathir’s attacks on the West made him popular with Islamic militants. But after September 11th he spoke out against terrorist attacks and provided the United States with intelligence on the activities of Islamic radicals, including some involved with the September 11th attacks.
Malaysia signed a joint counter-terrorism declaration of cooperation with the United States and held high level meetings with American anti-terrorism officials. However, Mahathir has urged members of the Organization of Islamic Conference to quickly adopt an internationally agreed on definition of terror. He also called September 11th “collateral” damage in a wide war between Islamic militants and the West.
Malaysia has made contingency plans and taken certain measures in preparation for a terrorist attack on its soil. Evacuation drills have been conducted at the Petronas Tower. The entrances have had metal detectors and X-ray scanners installed. Some have suggested that Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore need to become better organized and work together to guard the Malacca Straits.
Malaysia has rejected proposals to use foreign forced to fight terrorism in Southeast Asia, saying their presence could trigger a radical backlash among the regions’s mostly moderate Muslim community.
Terrorism-Related Arrests in Malaysia
More than 80 people were arrested without trial on charges connected with terrorism between September 11th and March 2004. Some were suspected members of Jemaah Islamiiyah (JI). Some were associated with militants in Indonesia and Al-Qaida. Others were members of PAS political party. See Political Parties
Mohamad Iqbal Abdul Rahman, a suspected senior member of Jemaah Islamiiyah, was arrested in June 2001 at the beginning of a crackdown on Muslim extremists. An Indonesian with permanent residency status in Malaysia, he was never charged or brought to court. He was released in August 24 and deported to Indonesia =.
In October 2004, Associated Press reported: “Three suspected members of Jemaah Islamiyah who have been detained in Malaysia without charge since 2002 will be held for another two years, a security official said yesterday. Nik Abdul Rahman Mustapha, Bakkery Mahmud and Abdul Murad Sudin were arrested in October 2002 under the Internal Security Act, which allows for the indefinite imprisonment of terror suspects without trial. Detention orders for the three suspected members expired on Thursday and Friday and, following a standard review, the Internal Security Ministry served fresh orders for them to spend another two years in jail. [Source: AP, December 5, 2004]
In October 2002, a suspected American militant wanted in the United States for alleged al Qaida ties was arrested in Malaysia. UPI reported: “Ahmed Ibrahim Bilal, 24, faces immediate deportation to the United States. Bilal has his passport seized and his student visa to study in Malaysia was revoked, clearing the way for his return to the United States. The two countries do not share an extradition treaty, so Bilal is being deported to the United States for immigration violations, not terrorism charges. Bilal surrendered to security officials at the International Islamic University in Kuala Lumpur where he had been studying. Bilal was one of six people charged by the U.S. Justice Department with conspiracy to wage war against the United States by fighting on the side of al Qaida and the Taliban in the months after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. The indictment charges Bilal and four of the other five men of attempting to travel to Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001, to join forces with the Taliban and al Qaida. None of those arrested Friday had actually made it to Afghanistan. [Source: UPI, October 8, 2002]
Detention of Yazid Sufaat, the Malaysian Army Captain Bio-Terrorist
In January 2004,Associated Press reported: “Malaysia has extended for two more years the imprisonment of a terror suspect linked to al-Qaeda's attempts to produce chemical and biological weapons, saying he has more information about terrorist operations. Yazid Sufaat, a U.S.-trained biochemist and former Malaysian army captain, was arrested in late 2001 as he returned home from Afghanistan, where officials say he was working on a biological and chemical weapons program for al-Qaeda that was ended by the U.S.-led war. Since then, he has been held without trial under Malaysia's Internal Security Act on accusations of being a member of Jemaah Islamiyah, an al-Qaeda ally in Southeast Asia. [Source: Associated Press, January 28 2004]
Yazid, 40, has been described as a key aide of Riduan Isamuddin, better known as Hambali, an Indonesian who was operational chief of Jemaah Islamiyah and a high-ranking al-Qaeda leader. Hambali was arrested in Thailand in August 2003 and is in U.S. custody. He is believed to have given up information on al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah plots and personnel. Malaysian officials have said Yazid has only selectively cooperated in responding to questions, but knows more about the chemical and biological weapons program than Hambali. A senior Malaysian official said Yazid could verify information provided by Hambali.
“The Security Act allows for indefinite detention without trial, in two-year stints authorized by government orders. Yazid's first two-year detention order expired. Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who is also home minister in charge of security, signed a new detention order. Friday. FBI agents interrogated Yazid in November 2002, but failed to get much information. Malaysian authorities have indicated they would consider an FBI request to interview him again, but have ruled out extradition.
Terrorist Hid in Malaysian Village After Escaping from a Singapore Jail
Mas Selemat—an Islamic militant recaptured after escaping from a Singapore jail— lived for a year in an isolated Malaysian hamlet undetected. The Star daily reported that Mas Selamat Kastari, one of the most wanted terror suspects in the region, lived in Tawakal, a village of less than 100 people in the southern Johor state. It said residents were shocked to find out the fugitive had been living among them. They said he rarely left his wooden house on stilts. "He never spoke to anyone and kept to himself. And he never prayed at the local prayer room," resident Mohamad Saat, 56, was quoted as saying. [Source: AP, May 11, 2009 /=\]
Associated Press reported: “Mas Selamat, the alleged Singapore commander of the al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah group, was sometimes seen gardening or fishing in a canal behind his house, and went out rarely. If he did, it was usually after dark, dressed in a long white robe and white turban, the report said. Mas Selamat escaped from a high-security Singapore jail on February 27, 2008, which severely embarrassed the city-state known for its rigorous security. According to Singapore authorities, he was caught again on April 1 by Malaysian security forces. /=\
“Mas Selamat, a Singaporean citizen of Indonesian origin, is alleged to have plotted to hijack a plane and fly it into Singapore international airport, its government says. He was caught by the Indonesian police in 2006 and handed over to Singapore, where he was being held under the Internal Security Act that allows indefinite detention without trial. /=\
“Mas Selamat, who walks with a limp, is said to have used an improvised flotation device to swim across the Strait of Johor -- the narrow waterway that separates Malaysia from Singapore -- after his escape. He escaped detention in Singapore by wriggling out a bathroom window just ahead of a scheduled visit by his family. /=\
“It was unclear why he ended up in Tawakal, where he rented the basement of a two-story wooden house on stilts, and how authorities learned of his whereabouts. The Star said Tawakal lies in a remote neighbourhood surrounded by oil palms about 10km from the North-South Expressway that stretches the length of Malaysia. The report said Mas Selamat was captured in a pre-dawn police raid on his house. The landlord of the house, who lived upstairs, was also arrested, it said. It quoted resident Mohamad Saat Marjo as saying that some 30 armed policemen surrounded the house and ordered Mas Selamat to come out before breaking through the doors. They led him out with his face covered in a dark blue checkered cloth.” /=\
Untried Terror Suspects in Malaysia Freed After More Than Seven Years
In September 2009, Malaysia freed five terror suspects held for up to 7 1/2 years without trial under it strict security law. Julia Zappei of Associated Press wrote: “Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the Malaysian men were released because they no longer presented a threat. They were arrested under the Internal Security Act for alleged involvement in Jemaah Islamiyah, an al-Qaida-linked regional militant network. Two of them have spent more than seven years in detention while the other three were held for more than two years. [Source: Julia Zappei, Associated Press, September 15, 2009]
Norlaila Othman, wife of Mat Sah Mohamad Satray, who was detained for seven years and three months for alleged involvement in the terror network, confirmed her husband was out of jail. "I've been fighting for his release, his freedom for so long. ... Of course I'm overwhelmed," she told The Associated Press. The couple have a 16-year-old son.
Nine people remain detained under the act, mainly for alleged links to militants and document forgery. Four of them are Malaysians, while the others are from Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, Singapore and Thailand. Among them is Mas Selamat Kastari, Jemaah Islamiyah's alleged former Singapore commander, and several others who are believed to have had contact with him. Malaysia arrested the men earlier this year, more than a year after Mas Selamat, a Singaporean citizen of Indonesian origin, escaped from prison in Singapore.
Arrest of Suspected Terrorist Recruiters
In June 2010. Associated Press reported: “Malaysia has arrested and deported 10 foreigners suspected of trying to recruit university students to revive a regional terrorist network, police said. The foreigners were arrested over the past six months at different locations, national police chief Musa Hassan said. They allegedly tried to recruit students to work abroad for the al-Qaida-linked Southeast Asian group Jemaah Islamiyah. [Source: Associated Press , June 15, 2010]
In different 2012, Malaysian police detained three people including Yazid Sufaat, the former army captain linked to two hijackers in the Sept. 11 attacks, on suspicion of recruiting militants for terrorist activities. Sean Yoong of Associated Press wrote: “The detentions are believed to be the first under Malaysia's Security Offenses Act, which was introduced to replace a law that allowed indefinite detention without trial. The two men and a woman were detained on suspicion they led efforts "to recruit several Malaysians for terrorist activities," said national police Chief Ismail Omar. [Source: Sean Yoong, Associated Press, February 7, 2012]
The statement did not identify the suspects. However, human rights group Suaram said they include Yazid Sufaat [Source: Sean Yoong, Associated Press, February 7, 2012] Police took Yazid, now a cafeteria operator, and an employee from their workplace in Kuala Lumpur and told them they were being held under the Security Offenses Act, Suaram and human rights lawyer Fadwa Nadiah Fikri said. Fadwa, a Suaram member, is not formally representing Yazid but went to his home while police were searching it Thursday. It was not clear when the three suspects would be allowed access to lawyers. The identity of the female detainee was not immediately known.
The security act enables police to hold suspects for up to 28 days before they must be brought to court. Militant suspects could previously be jailed for years without court approval, but Prime Minister Najib Razak abolished that provision after decades of criticism that it was sometimes abused to target anti-government figures. Authorities had long insisted that detention without trial kept Malaysia safe from any major terrorist incident.
Malaysia Court Orders Extradition of Iranian over Bomb Plot
In June 2012, a Malaysian court approved the extradition of an Iranian to Thailand on suspicion of being involved in an alleged bomb plot against Israeli diplomats in the country. Masoud Sedaghatzadeh, arrested at Kuala Lumpur's international airport on February 2012, is among three Iranians being held over incidents in Bangkok that saw Tehran accused of a terror campaign against Israel – which it denied. The alleged plot emerged after an apparently unintended explosion at a house in the Thai capital. Two suspects are in custody in Thailand, including one who hurled a bomb at police while fleeing, blowing off his own legs. At a criminal sessions court in Kuala Lumpur, Judge S. Komathy described Sedaghatzadeh, 31, as a "fugitive criminal" and said she disagreed with defence arguments that there was no evidence against him. [Source: AFP, June 25, 2012]
Thai police have said that Israeli diplomats were the intended target of the plot, and that prosecutors have referred a case against five Iranian suspects to court for a possible trial. Aside from Sedaghatzadeh and the two being held in Thailand, two other suspects are believed to have returned to Iran. Sedaghatzadeh was looking to travel on to Iran himself when he was arrested, Malaysian authorities have said. He has said he is a car parts dealer who came to Malaysia on business, while his lawyer Mohamad Nashir Hussin said his client had visited Thailand for a "short holiday" and was not involved in the house explosion.
Malaysian Centrifuge Used in Making Nuclear Bombs Sold to Libya
In October 2003, authorities seized a shipment of nuclear centrifuge parts bound for Libya that were manufactured by Scomi Precision Engineering, or SCOPE, that was owned by an investment company in which Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s son has a major stake. The parts could be used to enrich uranium for nuclear bombs.
A police prob quickly cleared the company of any wrongdoing. The state-dominated media quickly shut down debate on the issue. Islamic opposition members drew attention to contradictions in the treatment of Abdullah son’s and people implicated in the anti-corruption and anti-terror campaigns. Some thought the scandal might have an affect on Abdullah in the 2004 election but it didn’t really.
The activity came to light when a ship owned by a German company was examined in a port in Italy in 2003. Authorities found five Libya-bound containers containing 25,000 centrifuge parts for enriching uranium in wooden boxes with the logo of the Malaysian company. It led to the uncovering of an international nuclear trafficking network led by Pakistan's top nuclear scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan. Representatives with SCOPE claimed they didn’t know the centrifuges were ending up in Libya. A Sri Lankan businessman named Buhary Syed Abu Tahir who lived in Kuala Lumpur arranged the deal. He had helped Pakistani scientist Abdu Qadeer Khan obtained materials to build Pakistan’s nuclear bomb. Buhary was arrested in May 2004.
Tahir was held under a law that allows indefinite detention without trial for allegedly deceiving a Malaysian firm linked to a former prime minister's son to supply centrifuge parts for Libya's nuclear program. He had falsely assured the company it was a legitimate deal for Dubai's oil and gas industry. But ultimately Tahir was cleared of the charges—in Malaysia anyway. He was released from custody in 2008 without ever facing formal charges.
Rohan Sullivan of Associated Press wrote: “A businessman who admits aiding an international black market in nuclear materials was cleared of wrongdoing in Malaysia and is free to leave the country as authorities abroad widened investigations into his role in selling atomic secrets. A three-month police investigation found no evidence that Buhary Syed Abu Tahir - or a local company he contracted to make parts for Libya's nuclear program - broke Malaysian law, national police chief Mohamed Bakri Omar said Saturday. [Source: Rohan Sullivan, Associated Press, February 22, 2004]
Still, Tahir or his associates are the subject of at least two separate investigations overseas, and information he gave police added detail to what is publicly known about the illicit network of Abdul Qadeer Khan. Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear program, has admitted selling technology and know-how to Iran, Libya and North Korea. Mohamed Bakri said police have not restricted Tahir's movement in Malaysia or seized his passport. Tahir, 44, is a Sri Lankan citizen. "We are not imposing anything on him," Mohamed Bakri said. "There is no law to bar anybody from leaving this country."
Malaysia's investigation was launched after Western intelligence agencies seized centrifuge parts made by the Malaysian company, Scomi Precision Engineering, on their way to Libya. Nuclear Middleman Free to Leave Malaysia Police cleared the company - which is controlled by Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi's son, Kamaluddin Abdullah - of knowingly taking part in trafficking. They said the company didn't know what the parts were for, or where they were headed. Police concluded that Malaysia's obligations under the international Non-Proliferation Treaty had not been breached, because the parts could have had uses other than centrifuges. But they urged the IAEA to follow up on evidence they'd uncovered on several of Tahir's European associates. Tahir, who for a time was a director in one of Kamaluddin's companies, was also cleared of breaking any Malaysian laws.
Malaysia to Tighten Nuclear Export Controls
In March 2004, after the disclosure that a Malaysian firm produced nuclear technology bound for Libya, the United States urged Malaysia to tighten controls against the trade in nuclear technology. The Assistant Secretary of State for Non-Proliferation, John Wolf, visited Malaysia and pressed Malaysian officials to crackdown on nuclear trafficking and tighten export and production controls on nuclear technology. [Source: AP, March 2, 2004]
A lecturer in Asian business studies at Western Australia's Griffith University, William Case, says there may be a basis for believing the company was an unwitting player in manufacturing of the technology. "I think probably it is the case to the extent that companies were involved in they have been involved unwittingly," he said. "Apparently its the case that this kind of technology could be used for a variety of things." But Mr. Case says, it is understandable the United States would want Malaysia to tighten export controls. The United States is pressing Malaysia, a member of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, to sign additional protocols prohibiting the sale of technology destined for use in the nuclear industry.
In April 2010, Malaysia passed a law to curb the trafficking of nuclear weapon components. Associated Press reported: “The Strategic Trade Bill was approved by Parliament, a week before Prime Minister Najib Razak is scheduled to visit Washington for a nuclear security summit on the invitation of President Barack Obama. The law provides for prison terms of at least five years and fines of millions of ringgit (dollars) for people who illegally bring in or export material that could be used to make weapons of mass destruction. Offenders can be sentenced to death by hanging or life imprisonment if their actions result in casualties. [Source: Associated Press, April 5, 2010]
Nazri Abdul Aziz, the minister in charge of parliamentary affairs, told Parliament that authorities spent five years drafting the legislation, which would enable Malaysia to "cooperate with the world to fight terrorism." In recent years, Malaysia has also been linked to allegations of illegal shipments involving Iran's contentious nuclear program, including the case of an Iranian engineer in France whom the U.S. wants extradited for allegedly evading export controls to buy U.S. technology over the Internet for Iran's military. The U.S. says Majid Kakavand went online to purchase sensitive U.S. electronics and had them shipped to Malaysia, then on to Iranian military entities. A French court is hearing arguments on whether to extradite him.
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated June 2015