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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Security experts say visa requirements for Middle Easterners necessary

Putrajaya's proposal to impose visa requirements for visitors from the Middle East is necessary despite concerns of racial profiling, security experts have concluded.

They believe that stricter rules are needed in light of possible terror attacks in Malaysia by groups like the Islamic State (IS).

“I think with the current challenges we facing, we cannot take this matter lightly. Indeed we would like to see more foreign students and tourists but we cannot forsake that at the expense of security.

“We must put in place necessary measures to ensure the sovereignty of the country cannot be compromised. The threats can come from within and outside,” Professor Datuk Wira Dr Mohamed Mustafa Ishak told Malay Mail Online.

While the National Council of Professors (NCP) Political, Security and International Affairs Council head acknowledged that such a move would affect the country’s tourism industry, he stressed that such steps were key to protect Malaysia from any more terror attacks.

“We cannot compromise security and sovereignty for the sake of economic purpose. We want to balance both, we cannot simply allow anyone to come in now,” Mustafa added.

He also said that Malaysia might be used as a transit point for terrorists if the visa requirements were not so strict, and that this could also lead to the growth of human and drug trafficking.

Hitting back at critics who condemned the visa proposal, Mustafa said the same was done by the United States and United Kingdom after they faced terror attacks.

“This is not the first time we are facing this, we previously had this with Jemaah Islamiah (JI). That's why we need to be a bit more stringent.

“Even in US after 9/11, the security was tightened. So was the same in London a few years ago. It cannot be business as usual for us. We want to give comfort for the people, we put our Rakyat first,” he stressed referring to the US World Trade Centre plane crashes on September 9, 2011 and the London bombings on July 7, 2005.

Regional terrorism expert Professor Rohan Gunaratna meanwhile added that a large part of the terror threats both physical and online stems from the Middle East which should be addressed immediately.

“Southeast Asia including Malaysia should secure the region from IS influence largely coming from the Middle East. The influence is both from online and real world contact and communication,” the editor of Handbook of Terrorism in the Asia-Pacific said.

Rohan also deduced that the threat from IS was a regional one and Malaysia should work hand in hand with neighbouring countries to overcome this in an effective manner.

“The IS-centric threat facing Southeast Asia is regional. To be effective Malaysian government measures to fight IS regional threat should be taken in consultation with regional governments.

“Malaysian leadership is paramount in the fight against IS but it must take along other governments in crafting and implementing multi pronged measures to secure the region from the emerging IS threat,” he explained when contacted by Malay Mail Online.

Rohan heads the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

UK based terror expert Dr Sally Leivesley also echoed Rohan’s sentiments, saying the Malaysian government's proposal to scrutinise visas was vital at this point of time.

“The visa process is the most efficient way to block any foreigners with suspected connections from visiting a country and this avoids a total suspicion of all people including genuine tourists and business visitors or family connections from coming to Malaysia,” she told Malay Mail Online in an email interview this week.

The managing director of Newrisk Limited London, a group which advises governments and companies on terrorism added that the visa requirement would help Malaysia eradicate any potential threats through information sharing with neighbouring countries.

“Visa requirements give more protection as the Malaysian Government will be able to use intelligence information shared between countries on suspected terrorists and refuse entry to dangerous people.

“Local people who have travelled to the Middle East and who try to return on false documents may be more likely to be identified if visas are required,” Salley added.

She also acknowledged that Malaysia faced a big threat from within but added that could also be influenced by IS members entering into the country to brainwash young adults and students.

“Foreign fighters have been moving into countries that Daish are targeting for recruits, for destabilisation of State authority and to instil fear in people.

“Foreign fighters may be local young people who will return after trips overseas (sometimes without knowledge of their family) to train with Daish in Syria and Iraq. The effects of these foreign fighter attack in Europe have been  far more deadly than ‘home grown’ terror recruits,” Salley stressed.

“It may appear that local nationals are the greatest threat within Malaysia at present but the Government’s move to issue visas will be based on a strong understanding within intelligence circles that terrorism works through networks inside and outside the country,” she added, acknowledging that one of the biggest threats was from within the country.

Malaysia has been on alert of terrorist attacks recently after Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar confirmed that the June 28 grenade attack on the Movida bar in Puchong to be the first successful Islamic State (IS) attack in Malaysia.

The global terror network is said to be recruiting Malaysian, Indonesian and Philippine Muslim youths in a bid to expand its base from Iraq and Syria to Southeast Asia.

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