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20 years after 9/11, is Malaysia ready for a similar attack?

An expert does not rule out the possibility of attempts to replicate the 2001 attacks on the New York twin towers, but believes Malaysia is more prepared now.

Azzman Abdul Jamal
2 minute read
The twin towers of the World Trade Center burn behind the Empire State Building in New York, Sept 11, 2001. Photo: AP
The twin towers of the World Trade Center burn behind the Empire State Building in New York, Sept 11, 2001. Photo: AP

Twenty years after the events of Sept 11, 2001 where nearly 3,000 died in a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City, an expert does not rule out the possibility of Malaysia too facing similar threats, given past experiences and similarities in architectural structures.

Mohd Mizan Mohammad Aslam, an anti-terrorist expert from Universiti Malaysia Perlis, said attacks by extremist groups on a smaller scale had been reported in the country.

He cited the bombing of the Carlsberg factory in Petaling Jaya and the arson attack on a temple in Batu Caves.

“When we look at the pattern of attack, small-scale attacks can happen so it is not impossible for a large-scale attack to happen as well,” he told MalaysiaNow.

Mizan, who has authored several books as well as other publications, said such attacks might target the Petronas Twin Towers or KLCC in the heart of the capital city, noting similarities between the iconic Malaysian structures and those in the US.

Malaysia shares many similarities with the US in terms of architectural structure, seen in its famous Twin Towers and KLCC buildings.

“It is seen as a possibility,” he added.

In the events of Sept 11, 2001 which have come to be known simply as 9/11, 19 individuals linked to Al-Qaeda hijacked four airliners, two of which were crashed into the World Trade Center.

A third flight crashed into the Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia, killing 184, while the fourth crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, causing the death of 40.

More prepared after 20 years

Mizan said the event had had a significant impact on Malaysia, opening the eyes of the government and security forces to the importance of preparing for similar threats.

In the 20 years since 9/11, he said, there had been great improvement in terms of size and manpower in the country’s security forces especially the Anti-Terrorism Division or E8 under the Special Branch.

“Before 9/11, terrorist threats were seen on a small and more localised scale,” he said.

“So the size of the E8 unit then was very different from what it is now.”

He said the two decades had seen a paradigm shift for Malaysia’s security forces in terms of logistics, manpower and expertise.

He said the security forces would have taken into consideration the possibility of threats from that angle and conducted a variety of exercises to keep them on their toes.

“I believe we are ready to face threats of any sort,” he said, adding that these could not be completely avoided.

“We may be prepared for an inflow of firearms or explosives.”

Mizan said the most difficulty would likely involve so-called lone wolf attacks, especially those which utilise non-traditional weapons such as driving vehicles into crowded areas and colliding with large numbers of people.

He referred to the police whom he said have been especially firm in addressing the possibility of such threats by arresting individuals suspected of having links with terrorist groups.

“This shows that the police are taking the threat of a terrorist attack seriously. Even though the link might be small, they immediately arrest those involved and deradicalise them.”