KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - The Malaysian authorities have removed detainees suspected of supporting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) from the general jail population after some were found preaching the extremist ISIS ideology to fellow inmates, the home minister said on Thursday.
"They have been found to influence other criminals in joining the ideology," Datuk Seri Ahamd Zahid Hamidi told reporters, saying the ISIS suspects were being housed in dedicated cells blocks. "These are hardcore people who want to go and fight in Iraq and Syria. We want to neutralise them."
The authorities in Muslim-majority Malaysia have expressed increasing alarm as scores of the country's citizens have either gone abroad to join ISIS or been arrested for supporting the group or seeking to travel to Syria.
Dr Zahid said 67 Malaysians are known to have gone to Syria and Iraq and that five had been killed fighting for the cause.
Malaysia was holding 120 people with suspected ISIS links or sympathies, including both men and women, said Dr Zahid, who is in charge of domestic security.
Dr Zahid was speaking to reporters after a meeting with Mr Daniel Russel, the United States Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, who is on a brief visit.
Malaysia has traditionally observed a moderate brand of Islam and kept a lid on extremists.
But ISIS' ability to lure Malaysian Muslims, along with thousands of others worldwide, to join its bloody cause has rattled the authorities and brought new attention on increasingly conservative Muslim views in Malaysia as its long-ruling government's tight grip has eased somewhat over the years.
Malaysia plans to soon introduce a new anti-terrorism law to counter a potential ISIS-related security threat as fears grow that recruits may return home to spread militant Islam.