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Najib defends security laws as Malaysia grapples with IS terror threat

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Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak defended more stringent security laws that were passed last year, saying they are needed to combat terrorism even as critics warn they could be used against government detractors.

[KUALA LUMPUR] Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak defended more stringent security laws that were passed last year, saying they are needed to combat terrorism even as critics warn they could be used against government detractors.

The threat from the radicalization of youths and religious extremism "is very real," Najib said in a speech at an anti-terrorism conference in Kuala Lumpur on Monday. Malaysia will not wait for an attack before putting measures in place, he said.

Malaysia, like other Southeast Asian nations, is grappling with the challenge of Islamic State and its citizens going to the Middle East to fight. An anti-terrorism law passed in 2015 allows suspects to be held for years without trial, bringing back security measures repealed in 2012 that were used mostly against the government's political opponents.

"It is right to talk about striking a balance between civil liberties and national security" but Islamic State doesn't care about such social norms, Najib said. "The best way to uphold civil liberties is to ensure the safety of the nation. I make no apology for taking every step to preserve that safety." The government has said the laws are needed because Malaysia has become a target as well as a source of recruitment for potential militants. The measures - which have drawn critics including the Malaysian Bar and Human Rights Watch - allow for the jailing of suspects without trial, bypassing judicial reviews on detentions and putting offenders on a registry.

"When other countries have come under attack, some have expressed their dismay that they do not have legislation which allows them to deal with the problem promptly and early," Najib said. "I will not allow Malaysia to be so open to infiltration." In the past two years, Malaysia has detained dozens for suspected links to terrorism groups, prevented its citizens from travelling to Syria and arrested those who returned after fighting there. Counter-terrorism police are holding seven people captured in a three-day operation across states in West Malaysia, Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar said in a Twitter post on Sunday.

Indonesia plans to revise its existing anti-terrorism law and will bar Indonesians joining Islamic State from re-entering the country, the government said after militants linked to the group killed four people in a gun-and-bomb assault in central Jakarta this month. Southeast Asia, home to about 15 per cent of the world's 1.57 billion Muslims, has also seen local militant outfits carry out attacks over the years in Indonesia, southern Thailand and the southern Philippines.

A new and more comprehensive approach is needed to tackle terrorism and radical activity in view of its constantly changing nature, Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi said at the same conference. Methods and approaches toward the rehabilitation of terrorists and extremists must also be reviewed, he said.

BLOOMBERG