11 ISIS suspects picked up in Malaysian swoop

Police officers with one of the suspects detained in Sandakan, Sabah, on Jan 25. Malaysian Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said he had ordered random checks to be carried out on people travelling between Sabah and Peninsular Malaysia to catch those
Police officers with one of the suspects detained in Sandakan, Sabah, on Jan 25. Malaysian Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said he had ordered random checks to be carried out on people travelling between Sabah and Peninsular Malaysia to catch those who might be using fake Malaysian identity cards.

Suspects, including 7 Filipinos and a woman , arrested between Jan 25 and Feb 6 in Johor, Sabah

Eleven militant suspects were arrested by police in the latest swoop in recent weeks as Malaysia stepped up its security amid growing concerns over the threat of militants using the country as a transit point and forged documents to stay off the radar.

The suspects - 10 men and a woman - were detained in a series of operations in Johor and Sabah between Jan 25 and Feb 6.

They included seven Philippine nationals.

They were arrested for their suspected links to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror group, which is also called IS, and involvement in arranging for the safe passage of militants to the southern Philippines.

The arrests were announced two days after Malaysian Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said he had ordered random checks to be carried out on people travelling between Sabah and Peninsular Malaysia, to catch those who might be using fake Malaysian identity cards, including militants.

Datuk Seri Zahid, who is also Deputy Prime Minister, said the random checks at airports were necessary to identify holders of fake identity cards. This was in response to news reports that a suspected militant had been found living in Peninsular Malaysia using a fake identity card obtained from Sabah.

Malaysian police chief Mohamad Fuzi Harun said in a statement yesterday that in the first round of arrests, five men, including three Filipinos, were detained in Sandakan, Sabah, on Jan 25 and 26.

Two worked as labourers, one as an unlicensed moneylender, one as a boat operator and another was unemployed.

"One of them, a 39-year-old Filipino, had pledged his alliance and received orders from a senior IS militant in southern Philippines to arrange safe passage for militants from Sandakan to Zamboanga, where they would join the IS faction there," he said.

These suspects were aged between 33 and 50 .

In a separate arrest, police detained another four individuals - three male Filipinos and a Malaysian woman aged between 27 and 32 - in Penampang, Sabah, on Feb 4. One of them is a 27-year-old senior member of the Abu Sayyaf militant group, which is based in Basilan. A Malaysian suspect, 32, had helped a foreign militant make his way to the southern Philippines.

The arrests led the authorities to detain a 49-year-old Filipino, who worked as a cab driver and holds a Malaysian permanent resident status, on Feb 6 in Sandakan.

Inspector-General Fuzi said based on the arrests in Sabah, it was learnt that the Abu Sayyaf, a kidnap-and-ransom group linked to ISIS, was attempting to form a terror cell in Sabah to help the group arrange for the safe passage of ISIS militants in the region to the southern Philippines.

A 38-year-old Malaysian man who was detained in Singapore on Jan 18 was also arrested after he was deported to Malaysia on Feb 2. The man, who is from Penang, was believed to have planned to head to Syria to join ISIS.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 22, 2018, with the headline '11 ISIS suspects picked up in Malaysian swoop'. Print Edition | Subscribe