The ease with which tools that can be weaponised can be purchased online without raising suspicions has raised fears of potential lone wolf terror attacks such as the one planned by a teenager in Singapore who was recently arrested.
An experiment by MalaysiaNow on sourcing sharp weapons and firearms reveals that while obtaining the latter is a bit more challenging, tools such as machetes and axes are readily available and sold like cutlery on the internet, including on popular online shopping platforms.
On Jan 27, Singapore authorities revealed that they had thwarted a plan by a 16-year-old secondary student to kill Muslim worshippers at two mosques in the city-state wearing a tactical vest and using a machete he had bought online.
Investigations revealed he had planned to launch the attack on March 15, to coincide with the massacre of 51 Muslims at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, two years ago by Australian Brenton Tarrant.
This led to questions on how easily those with access to the internet and online payment tools could prepare for such attacks.
One popular local e-commerce platform offers machetes for as little as RM30 and tactical vests for about RM60.
There is also an online shop dedicated to parangs, a machete-like short sword. Checks showed scores of reviews from satisfied customers.
“Although they are sold for outdoor activity enthusiasts, these are tools that can be easily weaponised,” a buyer admitted to MalaysiaNow when contacted.
Singapore and Malaysia have some of the strictest firearm laws in the world.
It is illegal to possess, carry or use any type of firearm or ammunition without a licence, which is almost impossible to obtain as Malaysia does not recognise the right to own a gun.
While this ensures that only a fraction of Malaysians – mostly VIPs – own guns, gun-related crimes often make headlines in the country thanks to its vast borders and coastal lines which make the illegal smuggling of firearms, drugs and even humans a challenge for the authorities.
A quick check revealed many platforms where firearms can be illegally purchased, including on popular social messaging apps such as Telegram.
One seller who maintains a Telegram group told a MalaysiaNow reporter that they could ship firearms discreetly and even skip customs inspections.
Payment can be made in the form of bitcoin, with the weapons shipped in parts.
“We have Glocks and revolvers. We deliver them by part and directly to your doorstep,” said a seller operating on the Telegram app.
“It will cost you US$560 (RM2,264) to your doorstep for the Glocks. Deliver in parts,” the seller assured.
When pressed if it would be safe and discreet, the reply was: “Yes, man.”
In order to secure the order, a US$100 deposit must be made, only in bitcoin.
Bitcoin is a digital currency without a central bank or single administrator which can be sent from user to user on its network without intermediaries.
Since its launch in 2008, bitcoin has grown in popularity although critics say this is mainly due to the fact that it facilitates the purchase of illegal goods. Others say the cloak of anonymity encourages money laundering, terror-funding and other crimes.
The attempt by the teenager in Singapore to purchase firearms is likely not the first in the region.
In 2013, customs seized five air rifles with ammunition worth over RM2,000, ordered by a 15-year-old schoolboy from Ipoh, Perak.
Crime analyst Kamal Affendy Hashim said various enforcement agencies have been on their toes to ensure shipments don’t deal with illegal goods.
“If the authorities have suspicions, they will contact the individual or the company that imported (it) before the shipment can be released,” he told MalaysiaNow.
Kamal agreed that Malaysia’s vast borders – totalling more than 3,000km of land and maritime boundaries – make enforcement a challenge, including stopping the smuggling of firearms.
“There are illegal routes available for smugglers to exploit our geography,” he added.
“But our authorities are very consistent in carrying out their duties, whether land or air patrolling, and also in information intelligence,” he said, citing the arrest of individuals linked to radical groups in recent times.
As for the sale of sharp tools online, he sees no problem with this.
“Essential items that can be found in the local market such as knives or axes are not an issue,” he told MalaysiaNow.
“What is more worrying is if the importing agent of a company makes a false declaration for a cargo container.”