Jihadist threat to aviation remains low despite arrests of airport security guards for suspected links to Islamic State
Deputy Home Minister Datuk Jazlan Mohamed has ordered private security companies to tighten vetting procedures following last month’s arrests of two airport security guards suspected of supporting Islamic State (IS). One of those detained worked at Kuala Lumpur International Airport and the other – an Indonesian national - was employed at Sultan Haji Ahmad Shah Airport in Kuantan, the capital of Pahang State. The suspects had access to flight operations and security systems, and conducted regular pre-flight checks on aircraft.
A senior counter-terrorism official claimed in October that IS’s recruitment efforts were particularly targeting security personnel to take advantage of their access to weapons and related expertise. The recent arrests suggest that the group may also be seeking to recruit private security guards with access to key facilities. However, at present Malaysia is not a priority for IS, which mainly uses the country for recruitment and fundraising purposes. A high-profile attack would also risk provoking a crackdown against IS supporters that would jeopardise these efforts. A strike against a public area, such as an airport, would also likely cause mostly Muslim casualties, damaging the group’s efforts to win support.
A significant co-ordinated IS strike in Malaysia therefore remains unlikely for now, and so the threat to aviation targets remains low despite the recent arrests. That said, there is an enduring risk of sporadic attacks by IS sympathisers, who could seek to target foreign nationals, diplomatic facilities, religious minorities and bars. However, any violence by such individuals will be mostly low-level, such as stabbings and grenade attacks, and thus will pose only a limited risk to foreigners or commercial interests. In addition, the group’s sympathisers who are employed as security personnel lack the technical expertise to build a viable explosive device that could be used to target ostensibly secure interests, such as aircraft, which will restrict the threat that they pose to high-value targets. The security forces’ efforts to detain those suspected of supporting IS will also help to limit this threat.