Pakatan Harapan shuts down Saudi-backed anti-terrorism centre (7th August 2018)

(Al Jazeera, 7 Aug 2018) – Malaysia’s new Pakatan Harapan government ordered the immediate closure of a Saudi-backed anti-terrorism centre less than 13 months after it was launched. No reason was given.

The King Salman Center for International Peace (KSCIP) in Kuala Lumpur will cease operations immediately and its functions will be absorbed by the Malaysian Institute of Defence and Security, Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu said on Monday.

While Sabu didn’t give a reason for the closure, Hishammuddin Hussein, Malaysia’s former defence minister, defended the centre when it was launched in March 2017, saying it was crucial to curb the spread of “violent extremism” by armed groups, including the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS).

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud inaugurated the centre, which had a temporary office in Kuala Lumpur and was awaiting the construction of a permanent building in Malaysia’s administrative capital, Putrajaya.

Sabu also told parliament he planned to pull Malaysian troops out of the kingdom.

In June, Sabu announced a review of Malaysia’s military presence in Saudi Arabia, saying it “indirectly entraps Malaysia in Middle East conflicts”.

In 2015, former Prime Minister Najib Razak sent troops to Saudi Arabia to facilitate the evacuation of Malaysian nationals in Yemen.

It’s unclear how many Malaysian troops were deployed to the Gulf kingdom. According to Sabu, Malaysian soldiers were never involved in any attacks on Yemen, where a Saudi and Emirati-led coalition has fought since 2015.

Concerns have grown in recent years that under Najib, Saudi Arabia expanded its foothold in Malaysia.

The kingdom managed to build schools and mosques across the region and was offering scholarships to Malaysians who want to study in Saudi Arabia.