KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysian counter-terrorism chief Datuk Ayob Khan said people should not confuse sympathy for the plight of the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka with supporting the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) terror group.
He said this on Sunday (Oct 13) as Malaysian police came under criticism after it detained five more Malaysians in a swoop against what it said were followers and symphathisers of the defunct LTTE, bringing the total arrested to 12.
Two of the seven men arrested in the first swoop last week were ethnic-Indian assemblymen from the Democratic Action Party (DAP), part of the ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition.
Deputy Commissioner Ayob, the Counter Terrorism Division head of the police in Malaysia, said there was nothing wrong to have sympathies for the Tamils in Sri Lanka, but it is an offence to support the LTTE as they are a terror group.
"I sympathised with the Tamils too but I don't support LTTE," he told reporters. "Don't confuse the plight of the Tamils (in Sri Lanka) with the terrorist acts of LTTE," he told a special press conference in Bukit Aman, the police headquarters.
On the latest string of arrests, DCP Ayob said they were detained in central Melaka state and northern Penang state between 10am and 5pm on Saturday (Oct 12).
The five included a 52-year-old teacher, a Melaka city councillor, and a factory worker and security supervisor in Bukit Mertajam, Penang.
"Those detained were suspected of promoting and supporting LTTE while securing funds for the terror group.
"The ones detained in Melaka were suspected of organising an LTTE Warriors' Day celebration last year," he said.
Mr Ayob added: "We are going to follow the money trail and see where funds were transferred to and from. We believe large sums were transferred among those detained but we are not ruling out the involvement of others."
Police had said last week that one of the men arrested had wanted to attack the Sri Lanka embassy in Malaysia.
The state lawmakers detained were Seremban Jaya (Negeri Sembilan) assemblyman P. Gunasekaren and G. Saminathan, the Gadek (Melaka) assemblyman.
Veteran DAP leader Lim Kit Siang visited Mr Gunasekaran's family on Sunday. Mr Lim said, as quoted by Malaysiakini news site: "Guna has stood in six elections and has been victorious on three occasions. I believe he is innocent, and we will give him legal and other forms of support."
The arrests have raised tensions in the PH ruling coalition, amid claims that police did not warn DAP leaders about the impending detention of their lawmakers, and concerns that these have marred the image of the Chinese-led DAP party, which is in power for the first time since its formation.
Mr Lim on Sunday called for the security law Sosma to be abolished.
Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, asked on claims the arrests would weaken the DAP, said on Sunday: ‘’The government wants to know why this matter is happening. We don’t like to use power to weaken any quarter."
"It is not me who nabbed these people, not (Home Minister) Muhyiddin (Yassin) who nabbed them, (but) it is the police who did so and the arrests by their officers were following the law,’’ he told the media in Langkawi, as quoted by The Sun Daily news.
Mr Ayob, asked on criticisms that the police should charge the suspects in court instead of detaining them under the Security Offences Special Measures (Sosma), said the suspects were detained for security offences and not a normal criminal investigation.
"If we merely recorded their statements, I believe they will give 'superficial' statements or the bare minimum.
"They were detained under Sosma to enable us to investigate further and seize crucial items pertaining to the investigation," he said.
Mr Ayob said that political leader Senthamizhan Seeman from India's Tamil Nadu state may be banned from entering Malaysia if there is evidence that links him to the LTTE. He said police are aware that Mr Seeman has been entering Malaysia numerous times to meet politicians.
"However, we will investigate and see how deep is his role in channelling funds to LTTE or promoting the terror group. If there is basis, we will ask the Immigration Department to ban him from entering the country," he said.
Meanwhile, Mr Ayob said family members of the suspects were informed of the arrests once the suspects had been detained under Sosma.
"They will then be given access to lawyers after 48 hours.
"In fact, the two assemblymen detained on Thursday (Oct 10) will be able to meet with their lawyers and family members on Monday (Oct 14)," he said.
On DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng saying the police assured him of no more arrests pertaining to LTTE, Mr Ayob said he was not sure where the minister got his information.
"He did not get it from me. I have never issued any statement that we will stop this investigation. If we have enough evidence, we will investigate and make more arrests," he said.
DCP Ayob said police also believed an NGO with branches nationwide had been actively securing funds for LTTE.
"Those involved in supporting, promoting or securing funds for terror groups will be arrested regardless of their political affiliation or race," DCP Ayob said.