By Fathol Zaman Bukhari
I was caught off-guard when a Malay Mail reporter called me one recent afternoon to get my views regarding the arrest of a Royal Malaysian Navy personnel in Sandakan. The 31-year-old seaman was among three men who were arrested in Sabah for being part of a militant group that planned to undertake suicide bombings and attack missions in Syria and Iraq.
My comments were sought on the premise that I was a former serviceman who had served in the Malaysian Army. The questions posed by the reporter centred on the likely threats such an incident would have on the integrity of the Malaysian Armed Forces, per se. I responded that if we let our guard down there was a likelihood that we would suffer in the long run. Once the impregnable walls of the nation’s security forces are breached there is no telling what will happen next.
Back in the days when we were battling communist terrorists the problem was less pronounced, as the threat was mainly confined to within the country. It was largely a battle of attrition over a misshapen ideology, one promoting capitalism and free market and the other the nuances of socialism with a heavy dose of Chairman Mao’s doctrine on guerilla warfare and people’s war. The target was the same, the decadent British Empire where the sun never sets.
Being a battle of the minds getting the populace on the side of the righteous was the number one priority. Thus psychological warfare was the name of the game. And who could do it better other than the Police, as they were the ones who had the resources and the means to make ends meet.
The Special Branch (SB), consisting mainly of Chinese personnel, was the best weapon ever deployed to combat the threat emanating from the outlawed Malayan Communist Party (MCP). The SB covert activities during the Malayan Emergency (1948 to 1960) and the Second Emergency (1975 to 1989) were legendary. The Special Branch was considered as “one of the finest establishments of its kind in the world.”
One SB officer managed to gain sufficient trust from the MCP to be ordered to infiltrate the Special Branch. He in turn fed false information to his communist party “friends”. It was reported that the second-highest ranking official in the MCP was a Special Branch agent, who was executed when his true identity was uncovered.
I had my share of interactions with the Special Branch when my battalion was operating in RASCOM (Rejang Area Security Command) in Sarawak in the mid-1970s. The police unit, numbering a score, was under the command of Superintendent Nafri Junaidi and his number two, Deputy Superintendent Lawrence Lim. Both were the best that the Sarawak Police ever had. It was their thoroughness in planning and execution that resulted in the eventual elimination of the elusive Down River Group 1 and 2 and the Oya Mukah Tatau Group of the defunct North Kalimantan Communist Party.
Lawrence Lim committed to memory the names, characteristics and habits of all members of the insurgent groups operating in the Rejang area. In fact, there was a price on his head but the insurgents did not get to execute the order.
Although the arrest of the Islamic militants may not have the same impact as the surrender of Ubong anak Nuing, the notorious lban commander of the Oya Mukah Tatau Group in 1986, the outcome is equally significant.
It is all about nipping it in the bud. The authorities have in their custody potentially dangerous criminals who can cause unimaginable harm to innocent lives. This scenario is being repeated daily in Syria and Iraq where a sectarian battle between Sunnis and Shiites is raging.
Incidentally, Ahmad Tarmimi Maliki, 26, a factory worker from Selangor had the dubious distinction of being Malaysia’s first ever suicide bomber. Tarmimi drove an explosive-laden SUV into an elite Iraqi police unit headquarters in al-Anbar on May 26 blowing himself up in the process. It is individuals like Tarmimi that we should be wary of.
Religious extremism is fast taking root in this country and this is not something pleasant.