First IS Attack in Malaysia Reveals Changing Threat

Commentary by Rohan Gunaratna
160705-MY-gunaratna-620.jpg Malaysian forensic experts inspect the site of a grenade attack at a nightclub in Puchong, near Kuala Lumpur, June 28, 2016.

Malaysia suffered its first attack by the Islamic State (IS) on June 28. At 2:15 a.m., two IS operatives approached the Movida Bar and Lounge on IOI Boulevard in Bandar Puchong Jaya and threw an Improved Explosive Device (IED) that injured eight patrons, including one seriously.

The IS later issued a statement claiming responsibility for the attack.

“After confidently putting one’s trust and reliance in Allah with the realization that Allah provides for you and asking for help from Allah, two soldiers of the Khilafah from the wilayat of Malaysia conducted the first blessed attack in the heart of Malaysia […] by targeting a nightclub full of belligerent infidels with a grenade…,” IS said.

“The attack has caused several to be injured and has destroyed the nightclub that had not respected the month of Ramadhan by conducting sinful activities. ... The Muslim community is requested to stay away from centers of vices or from being the helpers of the non-Islamic government, so that you will not be targets ... leave your jobs as helpers of the non-Islamic government and repent to Allah SWT. All praises and grace belong to Allah,” the statement continued.

First successful IS plot

In staging its first attack on Malaysian soil, IS was successful in targeting an entertainment venue. When the device exploded, about 20 patrons were on the front patio of Movida watching a live telecast of the Euro 2016 knockout match between Spain and Italy. The explosion injured people as well as caused damage to property, including a vehicle parked 30 meters (98.4 feet) away.

After disrupting nine attacks in the planning and preparation phases since 2014, Malaysia’s counter-terrorism chief, Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, had warned the Malaysian government of a rising terrorist threat to Malaysia.

The Malaysian authorities had identified Muhamad Wanndy Mohamad Jedi, a Malaysian in Syria as the figure directing IS’s terrorist network in Malaysia. Raised in a village in Jalan Bukit Tambun, Durian Tunggal, Wanndy migrated to Syria in February 2015 and joined the external operations wing of IS.

He now lives with his Malaysian wife, Nor Mahmudah Ahmad, in Syria, where he plans and prepares terrorist plots in Malaysia. His task has been to disseminate propaganda, recruit, raise funds, organize and manage attacks.

Evolving threat

Since 2014 the Malaysian police’s counterterrorist Special Branch had foiled nine plots to attack Malaysia, but failed to detect and disrupt the attack in Puchong. The nature of the threat had changed from group terrorism to networked terrorism, making it a challenge even for the best security and intelligence services to prevent all the attacks in the planning, preparation and execution phases.

In addition to building greater capacities to monitor and counter the threat, the strategy of governments and their community partners should be to reach out to vulnerable segments of Muslim communities to prevent radicalization. With IS mastery in exploiting social media, IS succeeded in creating pockets of supporters and sympathizers throughout the Muslim world, including in Southeast Asia.

Today, IS ideology has spread and created sympathy and support among a tiny segment of nationals in Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, Brunei, Cambodia and Myanmar.

Malaysia is planning to create several capabilities, including a Regional Digital Counter-Messaging Communication Center in Kuala Lumpur to fight the threat. The IS attack in Malaysia, despite continuing counter-terrorism operations, demonstrates that IS ideology has spread and established a robust regional presence capable of mounting sustained terrorist attacks.

With its vast experience and expertise, the special branch will continue to detect and disrupt other IS cells operating throughout the country. Unless there is a shift from cooperation to collaboration, the Southeast Asian region will suffer more attacks in the coming year.

To fight the threat effectively, security and intelligence services will have to work closely both with their domestic law enforcement and military counterparts as well as with their foreign counterparts. Militarily IS has suffered since the Russian campaign in 2015 but the threat is still formidable.

Although the IS threat in Iraq and Syria has plateaued, IS is in a growth phase worldwide. IS operational capabilities have suffered but its ideology still resonates with its followers and potential recruits. To counter the threat, governments will have to develop greater intelligence and operational capabilities both in the physical and cyber space to counter the existing and emerging threat.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and not of BenarNews.


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