A huge operation by the Malaysian authorities to weed out potential terror threats in Kuala Lumpur ahead of this month's SEA Games has yielded hundreds of illegal migrants as well as a suspected leader of a passport forgery syndicate.
Sunday's raid in Kuala Lumpur's city centre saw 200 personnel - mostly armed police, accompanied by officers from the Immigration Department, the National Registration Department and Civil Defence Force - sweeping through the streets and combing apartment blocks around the Masjid India enclave.
They were searching for terror suspects, including 16 foreign militants deported to Malaysia from Turkey after they were thwarted in their attempts to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
A total of 409 arrests was made during Operation Joker, in which personnel in tactical combat gear were forced to break down the doors of some apartments when residents refused them entry, revealing dozens of illegal migrants hiding inside with little or no documentation.
A 32-year-old Pakistani was detained for possible links to security offences, after he was found with 62 passports of various countries, RM40,000 (S$18,000) and other foreign currencies, and a machine used to forge Immigration Department stickers.
Out of the 409 detained, 275 were released immediately as their papers were in order, while the rest were still being screened by the authorities as of yesterday.
Bangladeshis made up the bulk of those arrested, followed by those from India and Pakistan.
The scale of the exercise, which alarmed city dwellers out shopping at the weekend, underlined the challenge Malaysia faces in its efforts to stamp out militant activities.
TAKING THE INITIATIVE
The threats are imminent. We cannot be complacent, that's why we are taking proactive measures... We're basically doing everything we can to ensure public order. We want these militants to know that we're coming for them and we're coming down hard.
SPECIAL BRANCH CHIEF MOHAMED FUZI HARUN, on preventing Malaysia from becoming a terror hub.
Operation Joker also saw the use of radiation detection devices, which are on loan from the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency specifically for the SEA Games. Malaysia's Atomic Energy Licensing Board was on hand to operate the gadgets, the first time they have been used here to detect radioactive devices in an anti-terror setting.
Special Branch chief Mohamed Fuzi Harun said the joint operation between various enforcement agencies would continue, in a bid to prevent Malaysia from becoming a terror hub.
"The threats are imminent. We cannot be complacent, that's why we are taking proactive measures... We're basically doing everything we can to ensure public order. We want these militants to know that we're coming for them and we're coming down hard," he told The Straits Times.
He added that the department will not stop at just detaining the 32-year-old leader of the passport forgery syndicate, without crosschecking the identities of his customers.
"We will track down his clients and cross-check their real identities to see if some of them are ISIS cell members. We can't afford to leave things to chance," he said.
Although the police dragnet failed to nab any of the 16 ISIS targets, counter-terrorism chief Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay gave his assurance that the police would "continue to probe further and remain alert" ahead of the regional sports meet which begins on Aug 19.
"After going through a screening process, we found that no individuals have any links to terrorism, following a cross-check with Interpol and the Special Branch database," Datuk Ayob told The Straits Times.
Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who is also Home Minister, had said last Tuesday that the authorities were hunting the 16 ISIS targets who had been blocked by Turkey from joining the war in Syria, and then deported to Malaysia without Ankara first sharing its intelligence with Kuala Lumpur.
It was previously reported that many alleged Islamic militants facing deportation from other countries asked to be sent to Malaysia, since it offers visa-free travel to a host of nations.