Motives and Behaviours of Violent Extremist Groups in Southeast Asia: Violent Extremism in Malaysia

While Malaysia has not suffered from direct attacks in recent years, it has remained a transit hub and destination for terrorist groups. One of the most notorious is the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) who has orchestrated various kidnappings (often holding the victims for ransom) and killings. Furthermore, suspected supporters and individuals linked to ISIL have used Malaysia as a transit point to get into the southern Philippines.

  • Kidnapping by ASG (21 November 2019)

Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) demanded RM 24.5 million for the release of three victims from Indonesia.They were kidnapped by seven armed men while catching prawns on 24 September 2019. They were held hostage in Sulu, Philippines.

Motive: ISIL ideology. ASG is affiliated with ISIL which believes in a caliphate, a form of government by one supreme leader chosen by God.

  • Kuala Lumpur Militants (27 April 2015)

12 suspected militants were caught making explosives in Kuala Lumpur for use in attacks on government buildings, nightclubs, and other entertainment venues. They were part of the ISIL-inspired network in Malaysia.

Motive: ISIL ideology. 

  • Abu Sayyaf’s Beheading (18 November 2015)

Bernard Then, a Malaysian man, was beheaded by ASG in Jolo, Philippines. His head was found by a cleaner in front of a government building. Then’s family had been negotiating with ASG, but negotiations fell through. Before his death, Then was held hostage for 6 months along with Thien Nyuk Fun. Thien was released after her family paid the ransom. 

Motive: ISIL ideology. 


  • “Abu Sayyaf demands RM2.45mil for Indonesian trio in video”. Daily Express. November 21, 2019.
  • “What ISIS Really Wants”. The Atlantic. March, 2015.