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Malaysia faces challenges in curbing incoming ISIS fund transfer

Katibah Nusantara is an ISIS wing in SouthEast Asia: followers in Malay-speaking countries – mainly Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia

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Members of the Malaysian police and army prepare for a joint training exercise at a shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur, Feb. 22, 2016. (BenarNews)

Malaysian authorities face a challenging task in foiling cash transfers the Islamic State (IS) may be sending to its Southeast Asia arm, Katibah Nusantara.

Authorities are having a difficult time tracing these funds because of the underground black market money network in Southeast Asia and the emergence of the elusive hawala system.

“It would be a straight-forward case if the fund is being channeled via the conventional banks as we could track it through the Suspicious Transaction Record (STR) but it would be harder if it is being distributed through other systems out there,” Malaysian police counter terrorism official Ayub Khan Mydin Pitchay told BenarNews.

“They can even use the simplest method by using courier services and even the more complicated elusive ancient hawala money transfer system,” he added.

The hawala system, often used in the Middle East and North Africa, is a means of transferring money via a large network of brokers without money actually moving.

Local English daily The Sun recently reported that IS had allocated more than U.S. $73,000 (RM 292,000) for Katibah Nusantara to finance bombings and attacks at strategic locations in Southeast Asian countries including Malaysia.

Leaders of Katibah Nusantara are pushing their followers to stage attacks similar to the Jan. 14 attack in Jakarta that left eight dead, The Sun reported, citing sources in the intelligence arm of the Royal Malaysia Police, who said they got the information from their international counterparts.

Katibah Nusantara includes IS followers in Malay-speaking countries – mainly Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. Approximately 1,000 Southeast Asians had travelled to Syria and Iraq to join militant groups there by the end of 2015, according to the U.S. State Department.

No specific country

Ayub said intelligence received on the transfers were vague. He added that police have not confirmed whether the funding had made its way to any group in Malaysia.

“We were only informed that the fund is purportedly being channelled to Southeast Asia region, but it is not specific to which country,” he said.

Meanwhile, University Science of Malaysia (USM) Criminologist associate professor P. Sundramoorthy said tracking fund movements and distribution is complicated.

“I think it will not be an easy task for the authorities to identify and track down the funds distribution as they happened, particularly given the fact that they are not distributed in one, big lump sum.

“In some cases, these funds are being transferred in smaller amounts and even some are being channelled using conventional financial institutions,” he told BenarNews on Monday.

Monitoring needed

Malaysia has more than 400 currency or money changing premises, and many of them offer money transfer services.

The Malaysian Association of Money Services Business (MAMBS), which represents all licensees under the Money Services Business Act 2011, insists its members ask customers to produce identification documents for transactions greater than RM 3,000 (U.S. $769), according to a statement.

“This is for the purpose of complying with requirements pursuant to the Anti-Money Laundering and Anti-Terrorism Financing Act 2001, which requires licensees to identify and verify the customers performing money services transactions,” reads the undated press statement on its website.

Sundramoorthy said it is paramount that strict monitoring is carried out, along with intelligence sharing among law enforcement agencies, to curb the threat posed by terror organizations. (BenarNews)

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U.S. President Donald Trump Announces Withdraw Of Almost All The Troops From Syria

Meanwhile, U.S. military officials, as well as members of the coalition actively fighting the terror group, have been reluctant to predict when final victory will be declared.

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President Donald Trump shows maps of Syria and Iraq depicting the size of the "ISIS physical caliphate" as he speaks to workers at the country's only remaining tank manufacturing plant, in Lima, Ohio, March 20, 2019. VOA

In late 2018, President Donald Trump announced the U.S. would withdraw almost all of its troops from Syria, saying the Islamic State terror group had been defeated and there was no longer a reason to deploy U.S. forces in the war-torn nation.

The announcement led to the resignation of former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who reportedly felt the drawdown was premature.

In the months since Trump announced the defeat of IS, he has wavered on whether the group has been vanquished. Sometimes he predicted that total victory would come in hours or days, while other times he has doubled down on the claim that the IS threat has been eliminated.

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Trump declared, “We have won against ISIS,” in a video released by the White House, to explain why the U.S. was pulling most of its troops out of Syria. VOA

Here’s a chronology of claims concerning the demise of Islamic State.

Dec. 19, 2018 — Trump declared, “We have won against ISIS,” in a video released by the White House, to explain why the U.S. was pulling most of its troops out of Syria.

Dec. 22, 2018 — Trump tweets that “ISIS is largely defeated and other local countries, including Turkey, should be able to easily take care of whatever remains.”

Jan. 16, 2019 — Vice President Mike Pence declares in a speech at the State Department that “the caliphate has crumbled and ISIS has been defeated.” Earlier that day, four Americans were killed in Syria by an IS suicide bomber.

Jan. 30, 2019 — Trump tweets about the “tremendous progress” made in Syria and that the IS “Caliphate will soon be destroyed.”

Feb. 1, 2019 — Trump repeats that “We will soon have destroyed 100 percent of the Caliphate.”

Feb. 3, 2019 — Trump tells CBS News, “We will be announcing in the not too distant future 100 percent of the caliphate, which is the area — the land, the area — 100. We’re at 99 percent right now, we’ll be at 100.”

Feb. 6, 2019 — Trump predicts that the declaration that the coalition has captured all IS holdings “should be formally announced sometime, probably next week.”

Feb. 10, 2019 — Trump tweets that the U.S. will control all former IS territory in Syria “soon.”

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Feb. 16, 2019 — Trump tweets, “We are pulling back after 100 percent Caliphate victory!” Pixabay

Feb. 11, 2019 — At a rally in El Paso, Texas, Trump says the announcement that 100 percent of Islamic State territory has been captured will be coming “maybe over the next week, maybe less.”

Feb. 15, 2019 — At a news conference Trump says a statement about “our success with the eradication of the caliphate … will be announced over the next 24 hours.”

Feb. 16, 2019 — Trump tweets, “We are pulling back after 100 percent Caliphate victory!”

Feb. 22, 2019 — Trump tells reporters “In another short period of time, like hours — you’ll be hearing hours and days — you’ll be hearing about the caliphate. It will — it’s 100 percent defeated.”

Donald Trump
March 2, 2019 — At a conference, Trump tells attendees, “As of probably today or tomorrow, we will actually have 100 percent of the caliphate in Syria.” VOA

Feb. 28, 2019 — In a speech to U.S. troops in Alaska, Trump says, “We just took over, you know, you kept hearing it was 90 percent, 92 percent, the caliphate in Syria. Now it’s 100 percent we just took over, 100 percent caliphate.”

March 2, 2019 — At a conference, Trump tells attendees, “As of probably today or tomorrow, we will actually have 100 percent of the caliphate in Syria.”

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March 20, 2019 — Trump shows reporters a map that plots the territory still held by the Islamic State in Syria and promises that area “will be gone by tonight.”

Meanwhile, U.S. military officials, as well as members of the coalition actively fighting the terror group, have been reluctant to predict when final victory will be declared. Some also note that even when IS no longer controls any territory, fighters who escaped capture and are hiding within civilian populations could still pose a security threat. (VOA)