Malaysia

Terrorism and Kidnapping in Malaysia: Travel Safety Tips

Terrorism and Kidnapping in Malaysia: Travel Safety Tips


Terrorism has left its mark on Malaysia in recent years, with some incidents involving foreigners. Find out what you need to know to stay safe while traveling.



Photo © Getty Images/Nora Carol Photography

terrorism in malaysia

There is a real terrorism risk in Malaysia. If civil unrest occurs prior to your visit, keep up to date with local news reports. As of July 2019, more than 500 people have been arrested for activities that the government considers terrorism.

There is no need to be paranoid, and the government announcements do not warn travelers to Malaysia, so the risk is minimal. Note that terrorism is a threat to the country.

Kidnapping risk

There is a risk of kidnapping in the southern part of the Philippines, which meets Malaysia off the coast of Sabah, especially near the islands of the Sulu Archipelago or the Sulu Sea.

Avoid the area, but you most likely won’t be taking any charter boats to the islands. Don’t try to venture into areas close to the southern Philippines – it’s not safe there.

Piracy in Malaysia

Strait of Malacca

The 500 miles (805 kilometers) of water between the Malay Peninsula and the Indonesian island of Sumatra is known for piracy. Piracy and kidnapping in the area are things travelers should be aware of. Kidnappings have more than halved since 2003 due to increased patrolling of the area.

Lahad Datu

Lahad Datu is located on the island of Borneo. There are still some reports of machine gun-equipped speedboats in these waters, so the best advice is to stick to land if traveling in small groups or solo. Lahad is full of tourist attractions – making it a destination. Don’t visit the abandoned ATMs on the waterfront at night if you don’t want to have the chance of becoming a pirate’s treasure trove.

Sabah waters

In the past, particular attention has been paid to isolated resorts that can only be reached by water. This includes Sipadan and Mabul. While there are still risks, increased patrolling of the area will give travelers peace of mind, letting them soak up the sun and keep pirates away.

What to do if you encounter pirates in Malaysia

If you do run into some unlucky trouble, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Pirates might not actually have a talking parrot
  • Don’t make any threats of violence – they may have weapons, you definitely don’t
  • Remember that every kidnapping is different, so what you see on TV may not apply to you
  • Try to bond with your captors by speaking their language (if you can), this might help build some kind of rapport
  • Track time.You could be locked up for a long time so it’s best not to get confused about the time of day
  • maintain your dignity
  • Build rapport with anyone you take captive.They might be useful for running away, so this is a friend you want to keep
  • Make an effort to stay in shape.It’s important to keep your legs moving
  • Make an effort to maintain your mental health.Daydream, get your routine done—these activities will help you stay in touch with reality
  • Take note of the kidnappers and where they are holding you. This information can be valuable if you are rescued or are able to signal for help.

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