Seven individuals suspected to be linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group were arrested in five states in a three-day operation from Friday, Malaysia's police department said yesterday.
"All suspects are from the same cell group, responsible for planning and launching terror attacks in strategic locations throughout Malaysia," said police chief Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar.
One of those arrested was receiving instructions from Muhammad Bahrun Naim, the Indonesian terrorist who allegedly orchestrated the Jakarta attacks over a week ago. Another suspect was taking orders from Muhammad Wanndy Mohamed Jedi, also known as Abu Hamzah, a Malaysian terrorist in Syria. Both Bahrun Naim and Abu Hamzah are ISIS members.
This is the first time Malaysian officials have revealed that local militants are taking orders from Bahrum Naim, who leads Katibah Nusantara, the Malay-speaking arm of ISIS.
In the past, Malaysian and Singaporean militants linked with Jemaah Islamiah took orders from the terror network's spiritual leader, Abu Bakar Bashir, an Indonesian who is now behind bars.
"Cross-regional links involving Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines seem to be intensifying," said Ms Sidney Jones, a terrorism analyst and director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict in Jakarta.
Malaysian police have arrested over 100 individuals suspected to be linked to ISIS since 2014. The country has been on high security alert after several militants launched an attack in Jakarta on Jan 14.
Ms Elina Noor, an analyst at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies in Kuala Lumpur, said that "the threat of expansion rings more urgently because it suggests increased organisation by Daesh sympathisers". Daesh is another name for ISIS.
The latest police operations are a follow-up to an arrest of a male suspect in Ampang, Selangor. The seven male suspects, aged between 26 and 50, were nabbed in Kedah, Johor, Pahang, Selangor and Kuala Lumpur. Bullets, extremist books, an ISIS flag and a propaganda video were confiscated.
A police official told The Straits Times that the authorities would decide within 20 days if they have enough evidence to charge those arrested. The official declined to comment on the link between Bahrun Naim and one of the Malaysian suspects.
The arrests were made before an international conference on counter-terrorism that will be held in Kuala Lumpur today and tomorrow. Singapore's Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law, Mr K. Shanmugam, will deliver at the event a statement on Singapore's strategies in dealing with radicalisation as well as its community engagement efforts.