KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - They had planned terror attacks on several landmarks in the city as they felt that Malaysia was a secular and non-Islamic state.
The leader, a 45-year-old former member of the terror group Kumpulan Militan Malaysia (KMM), went to Syria in August 2014 and returned to Malaysia in December. The group is linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The trader is said to have received weapons training in Afghanistan from 1989 to 1990 and was also involved in a conflict in Sulawesi in November 2000.
However, the ISIS-linked terror cell's plans were thwarted when Bukit Aman Special Branch Counter Terrorism Division officers swooped on them, rounding up 17 militants in raids in Kedah and the Klang Valley on Sunday.
Among those held were a religious teacher, two civil servants, a security officer and the leader, a former Internal Security Act (ISA) detainee.
"This former ISA detainee was released in June 2001 and was also part of the KMM group, which in 2000, raided a police station in search of weapons in Gua Chempedak, Kedah," an intelligence source revealed.
The religious school teacher also returned to Malaysia in December last year after going to Syria in September.
The source described the arrests of the terror cell members as vital to thwart any attack in Malaysia.
"Most of the 17 are hardcore believers in IS ideology," the source said.
He said it was always of great concern when the group's members included security officers.
"Such people are armed with weapons and there is no telling what they can do at the spur of the moment," he said.
Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar confirmed the arrests.
"They were planning terror activities in the country," he said.
He vowed that he would do everything in his power to keep Malaysia from being used as "a terror hotbed, hideout or launching pad".
The latest arrests bring the total number of militants detained to 90 since February 2013.
Those arrested include civil servants, navy and air force personnel, as well as an officer attached with the Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry.
A former National Service trainer, along with a number of private and public university students, were also among those arrested recently.
Police are still hunting for five militants who are believed to have links with ISIS and the Abu Sayyaf terror group from the Philippines.
Former university lecturer Dr Mahmud Ahmad (also known as Abu Handzalah) and sundry shop owner Mohd Najib Husen, both 36, are among them.
The IGP has urged anyone with information on militancy to contact the nearest police station or the counter-terrorism division at 03-2266 7010 or 011-2104 6850 or to e-mail CTD.E8M@gmail.com.