KUALA LUMPUR • A fighter with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group tapped to be its next Malaysian chief in Syria has been killed in an air strike, reported the New Straits Times (NST), citing intelligence sources.
Muhammad Fudhail Omar, 25, died last month in an air strike by the Syrian military in besieged Raqqa, which served as the terror group's de facto capital.
Known as Abu Qutaibah among his comrades, Fudhail was poised to step into the shoes of Muhammad Wanndy Mohamed Jedi, the former leader and recruiter of Malaysians fighting for ISIS in Syria. Wanndy, who was killed in a drone attack in April, was said to be the mastermind behind a hand grenade attack at a nightclub in Malaysia last year.
Three other Malaysians who could be candidates for senior ISIS posts are Muhammad Rafi Udin, Wan Mohd Aquil Wan Zainal Abidin (or Akil Zainal) and Muhammad Zahar. The Malaysian authorities believe they are still in Raqqa.
According to the NST's front-page report, Fudhail, who speaks Arabic, made his way to Syria in May 2014 after being persuaded to do so by the late Mohd Lotfi Ariffin, one of the first Malaysians to go to Syria a few months earlier.
"Fudhail, with other Malaysians in the group, then joined ISIS in late 2014, where he was given the task of teaching children of ISIS members Al-Quran recitation, and guarding security posts," sources told the daily.
Fudhail had also been actively disseminating the militant group's ideology and recruiting new members via social media.
It is believed that a teenager from Sabah, who threatened on Facebook to kill Malaysia's Inspector- General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar, was influenced by Fudhail. The 17-year-old, who has since been arrested by the police, was also reportedly told to carry out a lone-wolf attack and slaughter foreign tourists in Sandakan last year.
A source told the NST that like Wanndy, Fudhail had used funds donated by ISIS sympathisers for himself.
"Besides actively recruiting Malaysians to join ISIS in Syria, he also demanded funds from them, telling them that the money would be used to help fighters. He, however, used all the money 'donated' by sympathisers, totalling some RM20,000 (S$6,500), for his personal use."
To date, 34 Malaysians have been killed in Iraq and Syria since 2013, while a further 53 Malaysian ISIS members remain in Syria.
Meanwhile, United States President Donald Trump has ended the clandestine American programme to provide arms and supplies to Syrian rebel groups, officials said, a recognition that the effort was failing and that the administration has given up hope of helping to topple the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
According to the New York Times, US officials said the decision came more than a month ago, by which time the effort to deliver the arms had slowed to a trickle.