A terrorism expert has cautioned that Malaysia is coming increasingly onto the radar of espionage and secret services linked to foreign governments in the wake of the recent botched kidnapping attempt of a Palestinian man wanted by Israel's Mossad.
Mohd Mizan Aslam said Malaysia's policy of openly supporting causes in Palestine, as well as the Rohingya and Mindanao Muslim communities, might have contributed to this development.
"This might not sit well with some governments," Mizan, who has extensively studied issues related to terrorism and extremism in Middle East countries, told MalaysiaNow.
Last week, 11 individuals were charged with the abduction of Omar ZM Albelbaisy Raeda, a Palestinian computer programmer whom Israel believed was working for Hamas.
The New Straits Times reported that a group of Malaysians believed to have been hired by Mossad had stopped Omar and another Palestinian in the heart of Kuala Lumpur.
He was then dragged into a vehicle and brought to a hotel room to be interrogated via video call from Tel Aviv.
Malaysian police later stormed the hotel room, freeing the Palestinian and arresting more than a dozen individuals.
The incident raised questions about the reach of the Zionist regime in its efforts to stop its enemies around the world, four years after a similar Israeli operation saw the assasination of a Palestinian activist in downtown Kuala Lumpur.
Fadi al-Batsh, an engineer linked to Hamas who was wanted by Israel, was gunned down by two assailants just days before the 14th general election in May 2018.
But incidents involving foreign powers and espionage are nothing new.
In 1981, Siddiq Mohamad Ghouse, an aide to then deputy prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, was arrested and accused of working for the KGB, the Soviet-era secret service.
The arrest occurred just days before Mahathir took over the top office from the late Hussein Onn. The government also expelled three Soviet embassy officials for spying.
In 2017, meanwhile, the world was shocked by the brazen assassination of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, in a killing carried out by two women hired by Pyongyang at klia2.
The incident sparked a diplomatic crisis, with Malaysia cutting ties with North Korea and sending home their diplomats.
Favourable factors for recruitment?
Mizan said the presence of a large diaspora from certain countries made Malaysia a natural target for governments in their efforts to silence dissent.
"An immigration policy that is friendly to foreigners has been taken advantage of by certain parties to carry out subversive and intelligence activities in the country," he said.
He said foreign intelligence agencies such Mossad and CIA were known to recruit people of various nationalities for their operations.
"The possibility of Malaysians being made agents of foreign countries cannot be denied, as was the case with Aisyah, the Indonesian citizen who was made an agent and victimised by North Korean spies," he said, referring to one of the two women charged with murdering Jong Nam.
Malaysian prosecutors however dropped the murder charges against Siti Aisyah and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, both of whom were caught on CCTV attacking Jong Nam with a chemical substance.
Mizan said the travel accessibility of the Malaysian passport also made Malaysian citizens a good target for recruitment by foreign spy agencies.
The Malaysian passport is currently ranked 12th among global passports, according to the Guide Passport Ranking Index, allowing its holders visa-free entry to 182 countries.
Mizan added that the local security forces' ability to stop the entry of those suspected to be foreign agents had led to intelligence agencies preferring to hire locals to carry out activities, offering them travel and training.
Qatar-based Al Jazeera recently quoted a "well-informed Malaysian source" as saying an investigation had uncovered a "Mossad cell" in the country, spying on strategic sites as well as hacking into government companies.
Malaysian police have cautioned the public against any speculation.
Mizan meanwhile recalled how Malaysia was made a meeting point for some of the terrorist masterminds who planned the 9/11 attacks in the US in 2001.
He said as Malaysia was strategically located in the middle of conflict flashpoints, authorities should closely monitor high-profile individuals entering the country, who could be a target of foreign governments.
"The government should also block and monitor social media access by certain individuals including Malaysians, as well as the movement of suspicious parties to third countries," Mizan added.