Malaysian police have arrested eight men for suspected terror links and extremist activities that threaten national security.
The suspects - seven foreigners and a Malaysian - were detained by the Bukit Aman Special Branch Counter Terrorism Division in Kuala Lumpur, Perlis and Johor on Sept 24, national police chief Mohamad Fuzi Harun said in a statement yesterday.
Tan Sri Mohamad Fuzi said the suspects were involved with an Islamic learning centre in Perlis believed to be promoting extremist teachings. "The arrests were made following intelligence obtained by police that a terrorist group based on the ideology of Salafi Jihadism in Yemen was planning to set up an Islamic learning centre in South-east Asia to spread the teachings of Salafi Jihadism," he added.
Early investigations by police and shared intelligence from foreign agencies revealed that the centre's foreign teachers and students are linked to a madrasah in Dammaj, Yemen, founded by Syeikh Muqbil bin Hadi Al Wadi'i, a Salafi Jihadism leader and an extremist.
The madrasah follows Salafi Jihadism teachings that allow the killing of non-Muslims and Muslims who do not prescribe to their philosophy. They also label the democratic system as un-Islamic.
It was learnt from the arrested suspects that they believe in extremist teachings, such as banning men and women from wearing trousers. Work is also not allowed as this results in men and women being together, and Muslims who do so are labelled apostates.
The first arrests in Perlis involved five Europeans and a sixth suspect from the American continent, all aged between 24 and 38 years old and students at the Perlis centre.
One of those arrested was related to a citizen of a neighbouring country linked to the Syeikh Muqbil madrasah and who has also undergone weapons training.
Intelligence from a foreign agency revealed that all six are linked to the Daesh terrorist group, also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), or other extremist organisations.
The seventh arrest, which occurred in Kuala Lumpur, involved a 33-year-old suspect from the Middle East who was a teacher at the Perlis centre. The suspect was conducting classes to spread Salafi Jihadism teachings in Klang Valley.
Police in Johor arrested a 32-year-old Malaysian who was a student at the Perlis centre in 2014.
"The arrests... are to curb the spread of Salafi Jihadism ideology, which is the basis for violent acts by groups such as the Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, Jemaah Islamiah (JI), Abu Sayyaf, Boko Haram and others," said Mr Mohamad Fuzi.
"This is not the first time that foreign Salafi Jihadism elements are using Malaysia as a base to spread their ideology and recruit new members."
He added that JI leaders Abdullah Sungkar and Abu Bakar Bashir infiltrated Malaysia in 1985 for the same purpose.
Malaysia has arrested around 400 people since 2013 for suspected links to terrorism. In 2016, police arrested 115 individuals in the country with links to terrorist groups. There were 82 arrests in 2015, 59 in 2014 and four in 2013.