KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysian militant Mahmud Ahmad has been touted as a weapons expert and the "go-to guy" in the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) hierarchy, and he can now add money man to his list of roles in the terror group.
It is learnt that since 2014, the former Universiti Malaya lecturer has received more than RM500,000 (S$158,373) in donations from ISIS militants and sympathisers.
Intelligence sources said the funds were channelled to Mahmud through couriers and dead drops since he fled to the southern Philippines three years ago.
"The couriers, mostly from Malaysia and Indonesia, would fly to Tawau before using illegal routes to Mindanao," a source told The Star.
"There, they would leave a bag of cash in a designated area to be picked up by another militant, who will deliver the cash to Mahmud."
The instructions to transfer money would be sent through the messaging application Telegram, which Indonesia has now banned.
This modus operandi is designed to prevent the capture of Mahmud by security forces, the source added.
When contacted, Bukit Aman Special Branch Counter Terrorism Division head Deputy Comm Datuk (DCD) Ayob Khan confirmed that Mahmud was using couriers to receive funds and had even taken bags of cash to the southern Philippines from 2010.
"We also discovered that Mahmud used international wire transfer services to get his funds," DCP Ayob told the The Star on Monday (July 31).
He said his division had taken proactive steps by detaining those responsible for channelling funds to ISIS militants in Syria and the Philippines.
"We have arrested 19 suspects for terrorism funding offences.
"Sixteen have been charged in court and three others held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota)," he said.
"Three of them channelled more than RM200,000 to Dr Mahmud," he added.
DCP Ayob said the latest intelligence showed that Mahmud was also in contact with Indonesian militants in Syria about moving funds to the southern Philippines.
"We discovered that Mahmud's Indonesian contact has told other militants in Indonesia to open a new bank account there.
"Subsequent funds will be channelled to this new account, to be supplied to other militants who intend to join the faction in southern Philippines," he said.
Commenting on a report by Institute of Policy Analysis of Conflict Director Sidney Jones, which stated that threats would increase in Indonesia and Malaysia after the Philippine city of Marawi, DCP Ayob said the incident there inspired militants in South-east Asia to increase recruitment, as well as plan and finance new attacks.
"Marawi marks the first time IS in the region was able to take control of an area that has since evolved into a command centre for their false caliphate," he said.
Mindful of the threats in the region, police here have conducted several operations against terror cells.
"In fact, our operations led to Mahmud and others fleeing to the Philippines for refuge in 2014. (He ran) because those arrested had links with the IS-affiliated Arakan Daulah Islamiah cell led by him," DCP Ayob said.
Operations will continue whenever the police receive actionable intelligence, he said, adding that this year, the division conducted three separate operations on new terror cells recruiting from Bangladesh and Indonesia and sending the new militants to join Mahmud.
On Jan 19, two Bangladeshi men were arrested in Kuala Lumpur. On Feb 21, a Malaysian and an Indonesian were arrested in front of a hotel in Kepong as they were preparing to leave for the southern Philippines.
"The latest arrests were of three men - two Indonesians and a Malaysian - in Sabah on June 15.
"Their apprehension is proof that the police will not let these terror cells spread," DCP Ayob said.