Malaysia is best protected against terrorism among Southeast Asian nations, an analyst said.

Compared with Indonesia and the Philippines, which have suffered multiple attacks by terror groups, only one attack was carried out on Malaysian soil by the Islamic State (IS) last year.

Malaysian police have also made hundreds of arrests of terror suspects in recent years.

The latest success was this month with the announcement that 20 Islamist militants were picked up in various operations across the country.

“I think out of Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, Malaysia is best protected,” Alexander Macleod, an analyst focusing on Southeast Asian security issues, told FMT.

“Two important factors are Malaysia’s smaller geographical area and population size compared with its neighbours.

“The country also has very capable, if at times over-zealous, counter-intelligence forces, which means the threat can be more easily contained.”

The Philippines has been the hardest-hit by IS terrorists in the Asean region, with its worst conflict seeing more than 1,100 people, mostly militants, killed during a five-month war in Marawi city this year.

The war erupted on May 23 between government troops and pro-IS Abu Sayyaf and Maute groups, who tried to create a regional caliphate in the city.

With the fall of the IS central group’s self-proclaimed caliphate in Iraq and Syria and also the recapture of Marawi by Philippine forces, there is now concern over the movement of foreign terrorists within the region.

Macleod, a senior analyst with risk intelligence firm Global Risk Insights, believes the risk of terrorist movement within the three countries is highest in the Sulu and Celebes Seas.

“Regarding possible returnees from Marawi, the main threat will come from their ability to exploit the porosity of the Malaysia-Philippines border in the Sulu and Celebes Seas, although concerted efforts are being made to shore up border security in this region,” said Macleod.

“Overall, the success of this strategy will depend on the ability of Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines to trust each other’s abilities and motives and to cooperate well.

“Overall, this positive prediction for Malaysia is based on the strong track record of its security forces, such that the most severe attack by IS on Malaysian soil was the minor attack on a Kuala Lumpur nightclub last year.”

Eight people were injured in the grenade bombing of the Movida nightclub in Puchong, Selangor, in June 2016.

Despite his praise for Malaysia’s security record, Macleod had earlier said the nation is still exposed to threats from lone wolf attacks and digital recruitment.

“More also needs to be done on social media, which continues to undermine central intelligence efforts,” Macleod said in an earlier FMT report.

The US State Department’s coordinator and ambassador-at-large for counter terrorism, Nathan Sales, recently told reporters the international community, as well as western and neighbouring nations, should help the Philippines stem the movement of terrorists from its soil following the Marawi conflict.

However, according to Macleod, there is also a possibility that militants, locals and foreigners alike, would prefer to stay in southern Philippines as the conflict-prone region provides better refuge for them.

President Rodrigo Duterte recently vowed not to let the Philippines become the next international hub for IS.

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