The surfacing of the first Malaysia “suicide bomber” squad signals grave double failure of police anti-terrorism strategy and the 45-year nation-building policy since Independence

Media Statement
Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Thursday):  The surfacing of the first Malaysian “suicide bomber” squad announced by the Inspector-General of Police, Tan Sri Norian Mai on Tuesday signals grave  double failure of the police anti-terrorism strategy and the 45-year nation-building policy since Independence in 1957. 

The Malaysian police have always boasted that they  had taken measures to deal with the threat of terrorism posed by militant Islamic groups even before the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, but if the police anti-terrorism strategy is so effective, why are “suicide bomber” squads surfacing not only in neighbouring Indonesia but also in Malaysia?


Bernama yesterday for instance reported that Norian Mai confirmed that two members of Kumpulan Militant Malaysia (KMM) with  links to  Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) were  arrested in Johore between November 16 and November 20 and  were part of the “suicide bomber” squad to carry out attacks on key installations in Singapore, including the water pipeline from Johore to the republic, a radar installation, the US Embassy and the Causeway.


Although there was a report yesterday that the shocking discovery of the first “suicide bomber” squad in Malaysia  would be top on the agenda of the Cabinet meeting yesterday, it is most regrettable that there has been no word after the Cabinet meeting on the issue which raised many disturbing questions about the success of the police anti-terrorist strategy and the 45-year  nation-building policy after Independence.


Did the Cabinet give serious consideration as to the root causes that could spawn  home-grown “suicide-bomber” squads in the country and the reasons that would lead Malaysians to become suicide bombers?


Despite the earlier protests by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and other senior Cabinet Ministers against the US Department of State for profiling Malaysia in its latest “Terrorist-Alert”  travel advisory on Southeast Asia, Malaysia has continued to hog the international media limelight every day on news on terrorism.


In the past 24 hours, Malaysia was highlighted all over the world in CNN and other international media reports on terrorism in at least four items, viz:


The Asian Wall Street Journal front-page report yesterday on “Tracing the Money Trail, US Terror Investigators Encounter Yassin Qadi” alleging the  Saudi  businessman as a supporter of terrorism including Osama bin Laden, which mentioned “the U.S. arm of a Malaysian company of which Mr. Qadi was a director  invested in a Chicago company that was stockpiling dangerous chemicals” headed by “a man whom  U.S. officials suspect of being a Hamas associate”. The Malaysian company mentioned in the report is Abrar Investments.


CNN, BBC, VOA and international media reports on Indonesia Police linking Imam Samudra,  the ringleader of Bali bomb blasts, to al Qaeda’s top operative in Southeast Asia, Riduan Isamuddin, also known as Hambali, who were “neighbours in Malaysia”. 


Reuters report “Asia suicide bombers appear to mark new terror phase” arising from announcement by Malaysian police of arrest of a “suicide bomber” squad as well as reports that the Bali bombings were initiated  by a suicide bomber.


Screaming headlines in the international media, such as “Global Jihad – 3,000 ‘sleepers’ ready for terror” on a US study by Boston-based professor Zachary Abuza warning that Islamic groups across Southeast Asia had sent up to 3,000 followers to Afghanistan and the Philippines to be trained as terrorists and had been sent home to set up sleeper terrorist cells committed to religious war in their homes countries, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.


The government, police and nation must come to grips with the reality, however unpleasant or unpalatable, that Malaysia is very high on the international screen of terrorism and one of the prerequisites of a successful strategy against terrorism is a full awareness by all sectors of the Malaysian society about its challenge and threat.


Malaysia is a long way from such a national awareness as reflected by the failure of Parliamentarians in  the  38-day 2003 Budget meeting of the Dewan Rakyat to come to grips with  the threat  of terrorism, as underlined by the emergence of the first Malaysian “suicide bomber” squad - when the least that should have been done is the establishment of  an all-party Parliamentary Committee to develop a national consensus on the  best way to protect the country from the scourge of terrorism.


In the study “Tentacles of Terror – al-Qaeda’s Southeast Asia Network”, Abuza cited various   reasons why al-Qaeda had been able, over a decade beginning in 1991, to penetrate the region by co-opting individuals and groups, establishing independent cells and finding common cause with local militants, including:


The linkage of the domestic agendas of militant Muslim groups in the region with the al-Qaeda international network to pool and share resources, conduct joint training, assist each other in weapons and explosives procurement, identity laundering and financial transfers.


Long-standing disputes and legitimate grievances of Islamic movements in the region with the “secular governments”.


Many of the countries in the region are “countries of convenience”  that make them attractive bases of operations for terrorist cells – whether “tourist-friendly with minimal visa requirements, lax financial oversights, well-established informal remittance systems for overseas workers, porous borders, often weak central government control, endemic government corruption and a vast supply of illicit arms”.


In his study, Abuza quoted a Tempo Weekly article which estimated that some 800 Indonesians who fought with the Mujaheedin in Afghanistan between 1983-1989 stayed in Malaysia, fearing persecution at home from the Suharto regime.


Abuza said  at present, between 400-800 Indonesian radicals remain in Malaysia and “there are growing linkages between them and their Malaysian counterparts”.


There is an urgent need for a full and informed national debate about the threat and challenge of terrorism facing the country, with the people taken into the full confidence by the police and the government on all aspects of the unfolding problem of terrorism. 


What is regrettable and deplorable is not only the shroud of secrecy on the issue but also  the total lack of understanding by the police and the powers-that-be that in the final analysis, the  objective in the battle against terrorism is to protect democracy and the rule of law  - and that the strengthening and enhancement of democracy, human rights and the rule of law are the strongest weapons in the battle against terrorism.  



* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman