KLIA shooting incident raises red flags about airport security, accessibility of firearms in Malaysia

A 38-year-old man walks into the arrival hall in Terminal 1 of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) on April 14, draws out a gun and fires two shots at his wife.

The assailant, despite reportedly firing at a range of about three to four metres, missed the target, and instead, struck her bodyguard in the stomach. The bodyguard is reported to be in critical condition. The suspect, identified by police as Hafizul Harawi (main image), fled the scene. A nationwide manhunt was launched by police after the Sunday morning incident.

(UPDATE: 4.35pm – Police today said that the suspect had been arrested in Kota Bharu, Kelantan at 3pm)

The episode is more than just an amateurish attempt by a man who had wanted to hurt his wife, but failed. It raises several red flags, according to criminologist, Associate Professor (Honorary) Datuk Dr P. Sundramoorthy, including the safety and security at an international airport, and the accessibility of firearms in Malaysia.

Hasn’t Malaysia learnt from Kim Jong-nam’s assassination in 2017?

On Feb 13, 2017, Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, was assassinated at klia2. The incident was carefully orchestrated by North Korean intelligence agents that also involved two women – an Indonesian and a Vietnamese – who thought they were part of a prank show. Jong-nam was murdered using the toxic VX nerve agent, one of the deadliest chemical weapons in the world.

One would have thought that airport security would have been beefed up following the 2017 incident that caught worldwide attention. Yet, yesterday’s shooting uncovered several security gaps at the country’s main entry point.

Federal Police Criminal Investigation Department director, Commissioner Datuk Seri Mohd Shuhaily Mohd Zain, was quoted yesterday as saying that, Bukit Aman is viewing this incident seriously as it occurred at the country’s entry point, and that “this was not the first time such an incident had happened… therefore the existing security measures will be reviewed thoroughly”.

Sundramoorthy agreed with Shuhaily, adding that there should be a review of the safety and security protocols, not only at KLIA, but at all entry, and exit points in the country.

“We should be looking at other airports and ports too,” Sundramoorthy told Twentytwo13 this morning.

“I would also like to highlight the response time taken by the security personnel at the airport. The assailant managed to flee the scene (by heading to his car, parked at Level Two of Block C). Why wasn’t the whole perimeter quickly cordoned off once gunshots were heard? Isn’t there a plan, or strategy in place when a serious security breach occurs? Such a strategy is the standard operating procedure in policing.”

He added that perhaps it’s time for stricter security measures to be implemented at the entrances of airports, including installing metal detectors.

Sundramoorthy also wondered if the security staff were at full strength at the airport, given the long Hari Raya Aidilfitri break.

Selangor top cop: Good response, could have happened anywhere

However, Selangor police chief Datuk Hussein Omar Khan, at a press conference this morning, highlighted the “good response time” by police and the security personnel at the airport.

“The response by the police and airport authorities was good. They managed to control the situation and prevented the incident from becoming even worse. They also ensured the situation (at the airport) returned to normal,” said Hussein.

He added that the incident could have happened anywhere.

“But it so happened that it (the shooting) took place at the airport. Anything can happen at the airport as members of the public can enter without strict screening procedures, unlike at airports in other nations that have scanners.

“Here (in Malaysia), even if one brings a firecracker, we cannot detect it. It’s up to the airport to beef up security or limit access to the public,” he added.

Hussein added that police decided not to engage the armed suspect as it was a public area, and “there were children nearby”.

“If we had engaged, the situation could have been worse. What transpired … and the decision taken by the on-scene officers, was the best one, to me,” he added.

Hussein said lanes at the arrival and departure terminal halls at KLIA should not be open to the public as previously recommended.

“People can easily drive over, walk a few steps and bring things in without being challenged,” he added.

Are firearms easily accessible in Malaysia?

Sundramoorthy added that yesterday’s shooting incident also raised questions if firearms were easily obtainable in the country. Malaysia has strict laws regarding gun ownership.

“But we have seen several incidents in recent weeks where people have had access to firearms. This raises questions as to where they are getting these weapons from, and what is being done to address this.”

On March 27, an Israeli man was detained at a hotel in Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur. Shalom Avitan had six handguns, including a Glock 19 Marine, Glock 17 Gen 4, a Smith and Wesson, a Sig Sauer, and a Stoeger, along with 200 rounds of ammunition, which he allegedly bought from a local couple – Syarifah Faraha Syed Husin,41, and her 43-year-old husband, Abdul Azim Yasin.

On March 29, police shot dead five suspected criminals in a shootout at Putra Heights, Selangor. The criminals were believed to have been involved in over 50 armed robberies around the Klang Valley in the past two years. Police discovered two firearms, along other weapons, following the shootout.

Responding to the case involving Avitan, Inspector-General of Police, Tan Sri Razarudin Husain, at an April 2 press conference, reportedly said, “The firearms are from Thailand”, adding that there was lax security at the border that could have allowed weapons or other contraband to be brought in to Malaysia.

“The fear is that ordinary people are getting their hands on firearms. This will surely threaten national security,” said Sundramoorthy.

“I’m sure the police are doing the best they can, but these matters must be given priority by the concerned parties, or we could see more of such shooting episodes,” he added.

‘Submitted the investigation paper, but there were certain instructions that needed to be implemented’

What also raised eyebrows in the recent shooting at the KLIA was the fact that the wife of the alleged shooter had lodged two police reports against the alleged assailant for criminal intimidation in 2016, and in December of last year.

Following the December report, the suspect’s wife hired bodyguards, as revealed by Shuhaily. He also reportedly said that police had “submitted the investigation paper, but there were certain instructions that needed to be implemented”.

It remains unclear as to what the “certain instructions which needed to be implemented” were.

Hussein, at the same press conference this morning, said police were still investigating the previous cases involving the suspect.

The suspect also has prior criminal records, including for theft and impersonating a civil servant.

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