KUALA LUMPUR - A Filipino relative of dead terrorist leader Isnilon Hapilon from the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) has been arrested for allegedly recruiting his countrymen working in Malaysia to fight in the southern Philippines.
His recruitment work has raised worries among security officials that the terror group may attempt to recapture Marawi city in southern Philippines.
The 50-year-old Filipino man was picked up on Dec 6 in Kuala Lumpur in a special operation conducted by Malaysia's Counter Terrorism Unit.
He was among 20 people - seven Malaysians, seven Filipinos, five Indonesians and a north African - who were arrested in Kuala Lumpur, Sabah, Johor and Selangor, between Nov 30 and Dec 15 for their alleged involvements in terrorist activities.
The latest security swoop meant that 105 suspected militants have been nabbed in Malaysia this year. The authorities arrested 119 suspected militants last year, both Malaysians and foreigners, with many of them enticed by the murderous ideology of terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
More than 400 suspected militants have been detained since 2013, with many of the locals behind bars and the foreigners deported.
Referring to the Filipino detainee, Malaysia's police chief Mohamad Fuzi Harun said in a statement on Friday (Dec 22): "The suspect has family ties with a high ranking ASG leader. He was believed to be recruiting his fellow countrymen in Kepong (Selangor) to join the terror group in southern Philippines."
A intelligence source told The Straits Times that the suspect told investigators he had been recruiting Filipinos living in Malaysia since 2016. "He admitted that he is related to Isnilon Hapilon and said that the dead relative was one of the commanders during the fight in Marawi," the source said.
Philippine security officials lifted the siege of Marawi on Mindanao island in October, five months after some 1,000 terrorists stormed the city in what is one of the biggest security crises in the Philippines. More than 1,000 militants, government troops and civilians were killed in the conflict.
Tan Sri Fuzi said in the first arrest on Nov 30, a 24-year-old Indonesian man, who is the senior leader of Indonesia's Jamaah Ansharut Daulah terror group, was detained in southern Johor for collecting funds before plannng to head to Syria. Investigations found that he was involved in a bombing in Bandung in July.
A day after that, a 46-year-old former teacher was arrested at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on suspicion of being part of a terror cell which had planned to launch an attack at the Better Beer Festival in October.
The police chief said three of the terror cell members were arrested earlier in October.
"The teacher, who is from Kuching, had also planned to head to southern Philippines to join a terror cell," he said.
On Dec 4, the authorities proceeded to nab four Indonesians with the help of Eastern Sabah Security Command in Sandakan.
Mr Mohamad Fuzi said the suspects had illegally entered Sabah from Tarakan and Nunukan towns in Indonesia's Kalimantan province. They were heading to southern Philippines. Several of the 20 nabbed were also involved with a terror group in the Philippines.
The latest arrest was on Dec 15 where a north African man, 31, was detained at the KL airport.
He was involved with ISIS and was previously arrested by Turkey. He entered Malaysia earlier this month, Mr Mohamad Fuzi said.