Malaysians used Mecca pilgrimage as guise to travel to Syria: police chief

KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysian police have detected a case in which two locals left the country in the guise of travelling to Mecca and instead ended up in Syria and joined the group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar said the new modus operandi by Malaysians is a way to escape detection to join ISIS.

"The two individuals had signed up for Umrah through a legitimate travel agency," he told reporters, refering to the non-mandatory pilgrimage made by Muslims which can be performed any time of the year.

IGP Khalid said based on investigations, the two, instead of making their way to Mecca, went to Syria.

"They think they are going to Syria for jihad but the fact that they have to cheat in order to go there shows it is wrong.

"This is a serious matter and if not taken care of could become an even bigger problem," he warned.

He said the proposed Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota) was much needed to combat the ISIS threat in Malaysia.

While Malaysia has been struggling to curb recruitment of locals by Islamic militant outfits, the new anti-terrorism law gives authorities wide-ranging preventive powers that allow for detention without trial. Critics are concerned that the law will be abused to stifle political dissent.

The government first proposed Pota after tabling a White Paper in Parliament last November, outlining data and its position on the ISIS threat.

While at least 68 suspects were caught in the past two years, the number of Malaysians who went to Syria rose from 30 in the first half of last year to 61 in the second half. At least five were killed, the white paper said, while five returned to Malaysia, sparking fears that they would recruit aggressively.