16 terror suspects nabbed in Malaysia

Malaysia's security forces arresting a suspected militant during a recent operation. As of July 31, the police have arrested 519 people, including foreigners, suspected of involvement in terrorism. PHOTO: MALAYSIAN COUNTER TERRORISM DIVISION
Malaysia's security forces arresting a suspected militant during a recent operation. As of July 31, the police have arrested 519 people, including foreigners, suspected of involvement in terrorism. PHOTO: MALAYSIAN COUNTER TERRORISM DIVISION

Malaysia has arrested 16 people on suspicion of terrorism, including a person said to have been plotting attacks on unnamed politicians and non-Muslims.

The 16 suspects - 12 Indonesians, three Malaysians and one Indian - were nabbed between July 10 and Sept 25 in Sabah, Selangor, Sarawak, Penang, Pahang, Kuala Lumpur and Johor.

One of the Malaysian suspects had planned to stage attacks in the country following "negative comments" allegedly about Islam and insulting to the Malays, said Counter Terrorism Division chief Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay.

"We believe that the 10 suspects detained in Peninsula Malaysia were active on social media in recruiting for ISIS and spreading Salafi jihadi teachings," Datuk Ayob told reporters, referring to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Malaysian police had previously said that Salafi jihadi teachings permit Muslims and non-Muslims to be killed if they do not prescribe to the same philosophy.

One suspect was a 25-year-old Indonesian who pledged allegiance to Abu Bakar Al-Baghdadi, an ISIS leader, and was picked up in Keningau, Sabah.

The farm worker had acted as a facilitator for an Indonesian family of five who were suspected of carrying out a suicide bombing attack on a church in the southern Philippine island of Jolo.

"The suspect also channelled some funds to the Maute terrorist group in southern Philippines, and had plans of performing jihad in Syria," Mr Ayob said.

Another Malaysian suspect and the other 11 Indonesians were arrested for setting up a new ISIS cell and promoting the terror outfit on social media platforms.

 
 

"They're between 22 and 36 years old and also active in recruiting new members, especially Indonesians and Malaysians. They planned to launch attacks in Malaysia and Indonesia after they recruit as many new members as possible," Mr Ayob said.

As of July 31, the police have arrested 519 people, including foreigners, suspected of having been involved in terrorism.

Malaysia has been battling the problem of a rising number of lone wolves and "wolf packs" - small groups of terrorists without networks or links with militant cells - and radicalisation behind bars.

The authorities have also uncovered a plan by foreign militants to use the country as a "safe haven" transit and logistics centre, following the collapse of ISIS in the Middle East. The terror group is focusing on manipulating local issues to spark violent extremism by capitalising on the perception that Islam is under threat in the country.

"I think ISIS always exploits fault lines within diverse societies, and the feeling of marginalisation by Muslims is something the group wants to both use and increase to portray violent actions as the only way to defend the Muslim community," said Mr Michael Horowitz, head of intelligence at Le Beck International, a security and risk management consultancy.

Mr Ayob said there has been a rising perception among Malay Muslims that the new government has not done much to protect them. "Although it's just a perception and not necessarily a reality, it's enough for (ISIS) to exploit and manipulate this unhappiness to its advantage."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 27, 2019, with the headline '16 terror suspects nabbed in Malaysia'. Print Edition | Subscribe