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Malaysia offers olive branch to IS returnees

While other countries refuse to take back citizens who supported Islamic State, KL is offering its people rehabilitation

Malaysia offers olive branch to IS returnees

Veiled women, reportedly wives and members of the Islamic State, walk under the supervision of a female fighter from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) at al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria in this Feb. 17. Malaysia has said its citizens wanting to go home will not be barred from returning. (Photo by Bulent Kilic/AFP)

Published: March 14, 2019 08:59 AM GMT

Updated: March 14, 2019 09:11 AM GMT

Malaysians who joined terror groups abroad are not barred from returning home as long as they submit to rehabilitation, a top police official says.

“Not everyone will be detained, but all returnees will be interrogated,” said Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, principal assistant director of the federal police's Counter-Terrorism Division.

All returnees will be scrutinized by the security agencies, clerics and psychologists “to evaluate their ideology and psychological make-up,” the senior policeman said.

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His comments come as governments around the world confront the difficulty of dealing with citizens who joined the so-called Islamic State group in Syria.

Thousands of foreign Islamic State jihadists and sympathizers detained in camps across Syria and Iraq found themselves disowned and threatened with prosecution by their home governments.

"We will compare intelligence we received from friendly foreign services. If there is evidence that a returnee was involved in Islamic State's militant activities, he or she would be charged in court,” Ayob said.

So far 11 Malaysians have returned to the country. Eight men were charged in court and convicted. The remaining three were a woman and two children aged 3 and 5 years.

The woman underwent a government-ordered rehabilitation program before being allowed to return home. She continues to be monitored, the local media quoted Ayob as saying. In an interview with Al Jazeera, the father of a 29-year-old Malaysian woman identified only as Lidia, said she left Malaysia with her husband and then infant son in 2014 to travel to Syria and she is now seeking his help to return home.

He told the broadcaster that she had sent him a text message two weeks ago from an area taken over by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) asking for his help to facilitate her return.

Ayob confirmed Lidia, now at a Kurdish-controlled camp in Hasakah, Syria, with her two sons aged two and four, is one of 13 Malaysians in Syria seeking to return home, but said facilitating their return was "difficult" as it involved many parties from different countries.

The former medical lab technician from the southern Malaysian state of Johor bordering Singapore has been widowed twice. She lost her first husband in the fighting in Syria as well as the man she married following his death.

According to her father, Lidia had been at the camp for about a year and had found life difficult and “uncomfortable.”

While the terror group is on the verge of a rout in Iraq and Syria, authorities believe there remain Malaysians willing to fight for it. Police believe there are still 51 Malaysian nationals in Syria, including 17 children.

Police records reveal 102 Malaysians left the country to join IS and say 40 were killed fighting in Syria and Iraq, including nine who ended their lives as suicide bombers.

There are now fears that Malaysian Muslim radicals who cannot go to Syria are now setting their sights on Mindanao in the southern Philippines where militant groups have links to IS.

The move by Malaysia, a Muslim majority multiracial country, to agree to allow back jihadist sympathizers is a departure from that of several foreign countries.

Many of the wives and children of IS fighters being held in detention centers scattered across the two war-torn Middle East countries have found themselves stateless.

During IS’ rise to power, the group relied heavily on the tactic of recruiting tens of thousands of radical Islamist fighters from the Middle East, Europe and beyond. Many young men eager to join from the Southeast Asian Muslim-majority countries of Malaysia and Indonesia took their wives and children with them.

Many of the families of IS jihadists are in a legal limbo because the local authorities in Syria want to send them to their home countries, who are unwilling to take them back.

Britain recently revoked the citizenships of three women who joined IS in Syria, including that of London teenager Shamima Begum whose case was widely publicized.

U.S. authorities are also insisting that its citizen, Hoda Muthana, who left home in 2014 to marry an IS fighter, will not be allowed back into the country.


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