KUALA LUMPUR • Malaysia has stepped up security at its borders in case militant fighters try to return home after Iraqi forces launched a major offensive to take back the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria's (ISIS) stronghold of Mosul.
Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi told a news conference yesterday that airport and border security had been increased, while illegal routes commonly used by smugglers were being monitored.
"We have been exchanging intel with international intelligence agencies, and we have a suspect list, which includes names of those we believe have ties with Daesh," he said, using another name for ISIS.
Iraqi government forces launched a US-backed offensive on Monday to drive ISIS from the northern city of Mosul, the group's last major stronghold in Iraq. Around 4,000 to 8,000 militants, a mix of Iraqi and foreign fighters, are believed to be in the city.
Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid, who is also Home Minister, did not state how many Malaysians are in Mosul, but police figures released last month showed that 90 Malaysians had joined ISIS since 2013.
In August, Malaysia revoked the passports of 68 Malaysians who had been identified as having left the country to join ISIS.
Returning fighters would be detained and sent for deradicalisation, Dr Ahmad Zahid said. A total of 137 people have been held for either planning to join ISIS overseas, returning to Malaysia after joining the group, or sending funds to the group, he said. He added that his ministry is tracking all ISIS-linked individuals, especially Malaysians.
Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein had said on Monday that intelligence sources suggested that thousands of ISIS members would make their way back to their countries of origin, or find safe havens in regions such as South-east Asia, if the Mosul offensive succeeds. "We have to be very proactive," he was quoted as saying by state news agency Bernama.
Counter-terrorism chief Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay said security personnel were being targeted for recruitment by ISIS as they had the necessary skills and access to firearms and explosives. Bernama quoted him as saying on Monday that the counter-terrorism division had so far found that 15 soldiers, three policemen and an auxiliary policeman have joined ISIS.