KUALA LUMPUR - The Malaysia police have detained eight suspected militants, including a Filipino man from the Abu Sayyaf terror group who was in charge of recruiting children for use as "human shields" in battles against the authorities.
The suspects - seven Filipinos and one Malaysian - were arrested in Putrajaya and Sabah from Oct 30 to Nov 12, according to a police statement released on Friday (Nov 16).
The Filipino played a part too in the beheadings of several hostages held by the Abu Sayyaf group, said Malaysia's national top cop Mohamad Fuzi Harun.
"The children... were to be used as human shields during battles against the Filipino army in Basilan, Southern Philippines," said Tan Sri Fuzi, who is Inspector-General of Police, in the statement.
The Filipino, a 35-year-old technician, was arrested in Ranau, Sabah, on Nov 8, with another countryman. Both were planning to flee to the southern Philippines to avoid arrest by the Malaysian authorities when they were arrested.
Earlier on Nov 3, the police had detained in Tenom, Sabah, three Filipino members of the ASG - a group notorious for its kidnapping-for-ransom activities in the southern Philippines and Sabah. The men, aged between 27 and 51, had worked as labourers.
"One of them, a 34-year-old, has the expertise of producing firearms to be used by the ASG," said Mr Fuzi.
Another Filipino, a 30-year-old blacksmith, was nabbed in Kinarut, Sabah, on Nov 10. He is the right-hand man of senior ASG leader Furuji Indama, said Mr Fuzi.
Two days later, a 60-year-old Filipino was arrested in Tenom, Sabah, for allegedly sheltering a suspect hunted by the police.
The Malaysian suspect, a 38-year-old who worked as an agent selling gold bars, was detained in Putrajaya on Oct 30 for alleged involvement in terror activities.
"He was involved in channelling funds to Akel Zainal - a Malaysian who joined Daesh (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS) - in 2017 for the purpose of financing terrorism activities," said Mr Fuzi.
Akel Zainal, drummer of the now defunct 1990s rock band The Ukays, has been part of ISIS since 2014.
Malaysia has arrested nearly 400 people since 2013 for suspected links to terrorism.
The Muslim-majority nation faces threats from self-radicalised ISIS sympathisers at home, and regional militant groups seeking funding and refuge in South-east Asia.
Malaysia's only terrorist attack took place in June 2016, when two men on a motorcycle lobbed a grenade into a nightclub in Selangor, injuring eight people. The men were sentenced to 25 years' jail each.