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Divergent Dimensions of Radicalization Risk: Migration and Violent Extremism in Sabah


State Department polling indicates that public support for the Islamic State (IS) is on the rise. Moreover, the Malaysian police claim to have thwarted dozens of terrorist arrests since 2013. Importantly, Malaysia has served as a transit hub and training ground for terrorists, and approximately one hundred Malaysians, including women and children, have traveled to Iraq and Syria to support the creation of IS. Though only a handful has returned, radicalization and recruitment to violence remain a risk in Malaysia, as evidenced by more than 430 terror-related arrests since 2013. There are undoubtedly opportunities to mitigate these risks in Malaysia by addressing the dynamics of radicalization and mobilization to violence with particular reference to the dynamics of geographical distinctions outside Peninsular Malaysia. This requires a nuanced understanding of the threat but present research capacity on terrorism and VE (Violent Extremism) in Malaysia is unfortunately limited. This is especially the case outside of Peninsular Malaysia especially in East Malaysia i.e. the state of Sabah, neighboring the troubled region of the southern Philippines and Kalimantan, Indonesia. In Sabah, security and VE threats have been broadly influenced by the external elements of regional VEGs (violent extremist groups) and organized crime groups. Reports of arrests and involvement of individuals in Malaysia’s terrorism-related offenses constitute only a small percentage of people from Sabah when compared with the higher number of violent extremism cases in Peninsular Malaysia.


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Nor Ahmad, Hafiza Nur Adeen, Ramli Dollah, Wan Shawaluddin Wan Hassan, Ahmad El-Muhammady, Jagroop Singh, and Anis Izzati Ismail. 2021. “Divergent Dimensions of Radicalization Risk: Migration and Violent Extremism in Sabah,” Final Report to The United States Department of State’s Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO). College Park, MD: START. https://www.start.umd.edu/pubs/Divergent%20Dimensions%20of%20Radicalization%20Risk.pdf