ISIS 'planned to kidnap KL officials for prisoner swop'

Malaysian police reveal militants' aim as they step up security for weekend Asean summit

Militants linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) had planned to kidnap top Malaysian officials and release them in exchange for dozens of detained comrades, police said yesterday, adding that "no leaders can run" from the group's attacks as the Malaysian authorities tightened security ahead of this weekend's Asean summit.

National counter-terrorism chief Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay said two soldiers from an ISIS cell who were arrested and charged earlier this year had planned to release a video of the kidnapped officials to demand a prisoner exchange.

"The (ISIS members were) only out to secure the freedom of their fellow militants in Sungai Buloh Prison. It was not about making any ransom demands," Datuk Ayob told The Star daily.

He confirmed his comments to The Straits Times, adding that the list of targets was the same "hit list" revealed by Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein on Sunday.

Datuk Seri Hishammuddin had said his name was on the list which was known to the authorities just before the Asean Defence Ministers Meeting in March. He said his aim in disclosing the information after last Friday's deadly attacks in Paris was to "inject a sense of urgency in the context of national security".

National police chief Khalid Abu Bakar yesterday said security for the Asean summit - which will be attended by US President Barack Obama, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, among others - will be increased as "all leaders are threatened" by ISIS.

"In my opinion, no leaders can run away from the (ISIS) threat," he said.

In April, two airforce personnel were among 17 people arrested, before being charged with promoting acts of terrorism.

Mr Ayob said the prisoner exchange would have made a huge impact as propaganda to promote the local ISIS network. Police have detained 150 terror suspects since 2013, although many have been released for lack of evidence.

The 17 arrested, among them an Indonesian militant believed to be a former member of the Jemaah Islamiah terror group, were planning to raid army camps and police stations to seize their weapons, Tan Sri Khalid had said.

Mr Ayob also said there were no records yet of militants involved in the deadly Paris attacks transiting through Malaysia.

The New Straits Times, in an editorial, urged strict vetting of Islamic preachers in order to curb recruitment by groups like ISIS.

"That (ISIS) can recruit Malaysians indicates a weakness, easily exploitable even by a perverse ideology disguised as Islam. Somehow, some Malaysians seem to have been misled into thinking that the Islam practised in the country is not 'adequately' Islamic. The proliferation of all manner of Islamic 'educational' institutions cannot be left unchecked, and licensing them is paramount," it said yesterday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 18, 2015, with the headline 'ISIS 'planned to kidnap KL officials for prisoner swop''. Print Edition | Subscribe