Militants aim to unite regional terror cells to form official ISIS faction in South-east Asia

Combination photo of Dr Mahmud Ahmad (left), and four other individuals who are wanted for investigations into their alleged involvement in militant activities.
Combination photo of Dr Mahmud Ahmad (left), and four other individuals who are wanted for investigations into their alleged involvement in militant activities.PHOTO: UTUSAN MALAYSIA

KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Wanted Malaysian militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) hiding in southern Philippines are planning to form an "official" ISIS faction in South-east Asia.

The region's ISIS faction is also planning to unite different terror cells in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.

It will include among others the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and other terror groups in the region.

Integral in the plan is former Universiti Malaya lecturer Mahmud Ahmad, who is high on the wanted list for his involvement with ISIS along with his cohorts - sundry shop owner Mohd Najib Husen and former Selayang Municipal Council employee Muhammad Joraimee Awang Raimee, 39.

Bukit Aman Special Branch Counter Terrorism Division head Senior Asst Commissioner Ayob Khan said Mahmud, also known as Abu Handzalah, was actively training with the ASG as well as taking part in terror operations in the southern Philippines.

"Intelligence indicates that he was involved in two bomb attacks against the Philippines' army recently.

"We believe the ASG regards him highly as an asset," he told The Star yesterday.

But SAC Ayob indicated that Mahmud was not content with just being involved with the ASG.

His ultimate goal is to officially form the South-east Asian ISIS.

"He has performed the bai'ah or the oath of allegiance on video but to form the South-east Asian cell of ISIS, Dr Mahmud has to travel to Syria and swear his allegiance in front of ISIS supremo Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

"We discovered through intelligence sharing that going to Syria is his priority now," he said.

The same could be said for the different terror groups, especially the ASG, where the leaders had also sworn allegiance to Abu Bakr on video, added SAC Ayob.

"These groups are only seen as ISIS allies, and not an official ISIS cell," he said.

He added that if Mahmud's plans came to fruition, it would spell even more danger to the region, with the different terror groups operating under one banner.

"We are cooperating with other security forces in the region, especially the Philippines, to ensure that this will not occur.

"We believe that Dr Mahmud is trying different means to gain safe passage to Syria, including using fake identification documents and passports but we will remain vigilant," he said.

SAC Ayob said his division was committed towards combating any terror element be it foreign or domestic.

"Our priority is intelligence gathering to ensure that we are on top of any development concerning militant groups," he said.

"We are working with our counterparts in the Philippines to track down and capture Dr Mahmud and his accomplices."

SAC Ayob, who has been dealing with terrorism matters for more than 20 years, said it was not uncommon for militant scholars or academicians to become leaders like Azahari Hussin and Noordin Mat Top, to name a few.

The trio - Mahmud, Mohd Najib and Joraimee - have been on Bukit Aman's wanted list since April 2014 following their escape to southern Philippines.

SAC Ayob urged anyone with information on militancy to contact the nearest police station or the counter-terrorism division.