KUALA LUMPUR - At least 30 Malaysians are said to have joined a militant group to fight in Iraq and Syria, and to help set up an Islamic state there.
The men were recruited via social media and small religious discussion groups known as usrah, the New Straits Times reported on Monday, citing intelligence reports.
The newspaper said the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Syam (ISIS), also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), has been recruiting Malaysians since several years ago and "the trend shows no signs of abating".
Quoting sources, the report said scores of other Malaysians were also planning to enlist and aid the group, which is advancing towards the Iraqi capital of Baghdad and has been involved in heavy gunfights against forces loyal to the Baath government in Syria.
These include 15 people who were recently arrested by the Special Branch's Counter-Terrorism Department (SB-CTD).
"Based on surveillance and information gathered, police found that ISIS's recruitment drive here had revolved around two methods - the use of social media and usrah sessions,'' said the newspaper.
"The recruiting exercises were conducted by ISIS members here, led by two of the 15 suspects whom SB-CTD have picked up in connection with the ISIS-related activities."
It was learnt that the Malaysian recruits viewed the ISIS as protecting and liberating Sunni Muslins from oppression, said the report.
It quoted a source as saying that the recruits were so determined to join ISIS's cause that they were willing to dispose of their properties to fund their struggles.
"Some of the Malaysians who joined ISIS's battles were also known to have been killed in action, while many have stayed there to continue fighting,'' said the report.
This includes Ahmad Tarmimi Maliki, a 26-year-old factory worker regarded as the first Malaysian suicide bomber.
He reportedly died in a suicidie bombing against Iraq military's Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) headquarters in Al-Anbar on May 26, which killed 25 elite Iraqi soldiers.
In their latest counter-terrorism operation, a team of SB-CTD operatives on Friday arrested three men aged between 29 and 31, including a Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) sailor, in Sandakan, Sabah, reported New Straits Times.
The suspects, one of whom is allegedly a senior member of a militant group who had recently undergone military training at an Abu Sayyaf militant camp in the Philippines, were detained to facilitate investigations into ISIS-related activities.
The report also said the Malaysian Armed Forces will initiate their internal investigation into the RMN officer once the police were done with their probe.