KUALA LUMPUR • The number of Malaysians nabbed for trying to join terrorist group ISIS shows an "alarming" trend, rising every year in the last four years, said the country's anti-terrorism chief Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay.
In 2013, there were only four arrested for trying to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). This rose to 59 in 2014 and 85 in 2015. The number "spiked drastically" to 119 last year, he told The Star newspaper in an interview. "It is alarming to say the least," said Mr Ayob Khan, principal assistant director of the Special Branch Counter-terrorism Division.
He added that there are 60 Malaysians currently in Syria, with some assigned as snipers for ISIS and others as suicide bombers.
In Malaysia, the authorities have charged 122 suspects, including several women.
They include 62 militants who have been found guilty. Another 38 have been detained under the Prevention of Crime Act and 18 under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.
"We have never ceased from our duties of collecting intelligence as well as conducting raids and arrests," he said.
But he added that ISIS will continue to pose a significant threat "if other agencies, especially the religious authorities and departments, do not play their part in curbing the spread of the 'salafi jihadi' ideology, which is an extremist form of teaching". He was referring to a conservative strain of Islam.
Mr Ayob Khan mentioned Malaysian Islamic "experts" who have questioned police operations against suspects with links to Al-Qaeda, Jemaah Islamiah, Darul Islam and ISIS because they shared the same ideology.
He did not name these local "experts", but said organisers of public events must vet all speakers carefully before inviting them to give public lectures including at universities.
He added that the Malaysian authorities have thwarted 14 terrorist plots in the country, three of which were ordered by one of Malaysia's most wanted men, 26-year old Mohamad Wanndy Mohamad Jedi, who is based in Syria.
Mr Ayob Khan said terror groups such as ISIS can easily create mayhem because militants sometimes work alone in what is described as "lone wolf" attacks.
"It doesn't take a whole group or terror squad to launch attacks. One man or attacker is enough to incite chaos," he said.
"An attacker armed merely with a knife or a gun can disrupt safety and security... Lone wolf attacks are much more dangerous as they are harder to detect compared to a mobilisation of a group of people."
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK