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Malaysia’s rehabilitation programme for militants is flawed: Think tank

KUALA LUMPUR — The Malaysian government’s much-touted programme to deradicalise violent extremists has actually failed to rehabilitate them, with some playing along with facilitators just to secure release, said a think tank.

Malaysia police arresting IS militants suspected of planning terror attacks. Photo: Malaysia Police

Malaysia police arresting IS militants suspected of planning terror attacks. Photo: Malaysia Police

KUALA LUMPUR — The Malaysian government’s much-touted programme to deradicalise violent extremists has actually failed to rehabilitate them, with some playing along with facilitators just to secure release, said a think tank.

The assertion by Iman Research - which studies violent extremism in Malaysia - is potentially embarrassing for Putrajaya, given that it says the programme has a 98 per cent success rate.

In an immediate response, Deputy Home Minister Nur Jazlan Mohamed has defended the programme, saying that it has successfully prevented more terror attacks in Malaysia.

Iman Research, whose chairman is former secretary-general of Malaysia’s Foreign Ministry Ahmad Fuzi Razak, said it came to its conclusion based on interviews with previous programme participants.

It also cited the examples of how three of Malaysia’s most notorious militants - Yazid Sufaat, Mohd Lotfi Ariffin and Rafi Udin - had also graduated from Putrajaya’s rehabilitation and reintegration programme (RnR) for militants.

Lotfi and Rafi are two among scores of extremists whom the think-tank says have either rejoined militant groups or continue to believe in militancy despite completing the government’s programme, which involved those detained under the now defunct Internal Security Act (ISA).

Iman Research’s programme director Badrul Hisham Ismail said that in the course of its research, it discovered that a majority of “rehabilitated” extremists still held on to their original beliefs and continued giving financial support to violent groups.

“It is true when the government says its anti-extremism policy has stopped terror attacks in Malaysia,” Mr Badrul told The Malaysian Insight.

“But it is not true that the people who went through the programme gave up their extremist views.”

This was based on Iman Research’s meetings with these individuals, whom he declined to name.

“Our counter-terrorism policy may be really successful. But it’s not the same with the RnR programme. Just because an extremist cannot commit violent acts after he is arrested does not mean that he does not want to commit them or that he does not support them any longer.”

Mr Nur Jazlan however rejected claims that the programme is flawed, citing how the low number of actual terrorist-related incidents in Malaysia showed the government’s preventive enforcement and corrective measures have been successful.

“Only the Movida attack in Puchong has been classified as terrorist related Share this quote Share this quote,” he said, referring to the 2016 incident where two terrorists hurled a grenade at the Movida nightclub in Puchong, Selangor, injuring eight patrons.

“It must be emphasised the number of potential terrorist suspects is still small, measured by the inmates in detention.”

But Mr Badrul noted that the authorities’ success at preventing terror attacks on home soil may also be because Malaysia itself is not a big target for local violent extremists.

“Extremists have priorities and most of them want to travel to conflict areas, such as Syria, Marawi (in South Philippines) and lately Rakhine (in Myanmar), to join groups who already fighting.”

This is because such conflict zones already have the weapons and support network necessary for these extremists to wage what they believe is a holy war.

“In comparison, carrying out an attack in Malaysia is a lot more difficult,” said Mr Badrul.

Malaysia has arrested hundreds of people over the past few years for suspected links to militant groups and foiled numerous plots to attack targets in the country, including on to kidnap Prime Minister Najib Razak and other senior ministers in 2015.

n Friday, Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs said it had deported a self-radicalised Malaysian who had been going online since 2008 to peruse the teachings by foreign extremist preachers.

Muhammad Nur Hanief Abdul Jalil, 33, is now under the custody of Malaysian authorities.

Putrajaya said it rehabilitated 97.5 per cent or 282 of the 298 militants who underwent the programme from 2001 to 2012 – the period under which the ISA was still in use.

After the ISA was repealed and replaced with the Prevention of Terrorism and Security Offences (Special Measures) Act, the Malaysian government replaced the old programme with an integrated module.

Mr Badrul said Iman’s study was conducted among detainees under the old ISA programme, but there are no details or data about the new integrated module.

The Malaysian government has consistently touted the success of its deradicalisation programme, with no less than Mr Najib citing it during an official visit to the United States last year, saying that it had a success rate “of over 90 percent”.

It was not clear if he was referring to the new or old programme, or both.

One of the reasons the old programme was flawed was because it was top-down and only looked at the religious aspect of extremism, said Mr Badrul.

“So, detainees realised that if you wanted to be released early all you had to do was just follow what the facilitators wanted you to do in the classes.”

By playing along, detainees hoodwinked the facilitators into thinking that they were cured of their extremist views, he said.

“Yazid and Lotfi are prime examples of how this occurred. In fact, Lotfi was even called back to become a facilitator. But later, when he had a chance to go to Syria, he took it.”

Lotfi was killed while fighting for the Islamic State terror group in the Syrian civil war in 2014. Yazid was sentenced to seven years’ jail in 2016 after being found guilty of terrorism-related offences.

Both had been ISA detainees who were released after undergoing rehabilitation.

But Mr Nur Jazlan maintained that the examples of trio did not mean the programme was flawed.

“The fact is we have only detained a few hundred suspects which is miniscule compared to the population,” he said, adding that the government reviewed the de-radicalisation programme over time to improve its effectiveness.

“More than 95 per cent of inmates follow through the programme until the end. Then they are monitored even after release. The deradicalisation process is a lifelong process.”

According to Iman Research, another reason the programme was flawed was because it was top-down and only looked at the religious aspect of extremism.

To this, Mr Nur Jazlan explained the initial programme had to be top-down to ensure the inmates submitted to it.

“And since almost all the inmates are Muslims, a religious module to instill awareness of the true, non-violent teachings of Islam, must be administered.

“After they have been deradicalised and vetted by our experts, the government begins the process of reintegrating them into society.

“This will involve other soft factors like the family and the community and employers,” he said.

Iman Research, however, contrasted Malaysia’s approach with that of Indonesia’s, which conducted a variety of rehabilitation programmes run by the government, civil society groups and the local community.

This was done to be more comprehensive in addressing the variety of factors that cause a person to be radicalised, taking it account the person’s feelings of dissatisfaction with life, weak ties with family members, poverty and ideology.

“The lesson from these Indonesian programmes is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach, said Mr Badrul.

“Rehabilitation should not just be left to the authorities. Civil society organisations and local communities must also be involved as there are complex push-and-pull factors that create extremists.”

There is a combination of factors which make individuals vulnerable to extremism. These include feelings of dissatisfaction with life, weak ties with family members, poverty and ideology.

“We cannot get people to abandon extremist thinking if we don’t deal with all these factors.” THE MALAYSIAN INSIGHT

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