Malaysia taking back jihadists from Syria with caution

“We are keeping an eye on them,” said Malaysia’s counter-terrorism chief. An estimated 102 Malaysians joined the Islamic State group. Some 51 are still in Syria, 40 have died, nine as suicide bombers. Fighters are now turning their attention to the Philippines.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Whilst countries like the United States and the United Kingdom refuse to take back their citizens who joined the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria, Malaysia accepts them with caution, provided they submit to a month-long programme of rehabilitation and de-radicalisation.

Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, head of counterterrorism at Special Branch, the intelligence arm of the Malaysian police, said that “thorough checks” were being conducted on all returnees.

“We bring in clerics and psychologists to evaluate their ideology and psychological make-up,” he said.

“We will compare intelligence which we received from friendly foreign services. If there is evidence that a returnee was involved in [IS] militant activities, he or she would be charged in court.”

In total, 102 Malaysians are thought to have travelled to Syria to join IS, 11 of whom have since returned. Eight of these, all men, were convicted and jailed, whilst the remaining three – a woman and two children – are free.

Ayob said that the government is currently attempting to repatriate 13 of the 51 Malaysians still believed to be in Syria, adding that the latter had reached out to family members in their home country, who then contacted the police.

Of the 51 Malaysians still thought to be in Syria, 17 are believed to be children. Since 2013, 40 Malaysians have died in IS-controlled territory, nine of whom were suicide bombers.

Malaysian police said there were still citizens who wanted to fight for IS. “We are keeping an eye on them,” Ayob said. “Those who cannot go to Syria are now setting their sights on Mindanao in southern Philippines where militant groups have links to IS.”