The growing threat of terror in the region was underlined again yesterday as Malaysia revealed that it had detained one of its citizens and deported three foreigners with links to militant groups.
This follows the arrest last month of three Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) operatives for plotting attacks on the country's Independence Day celebrations. In all, 240 suspected terrorists have been detained in Malaysia since late 2013.
Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar said yesterday that among those arrested by the Bukit Aman Special Branch Counter Terrorism Division was a 37-year-old Bangladeshi who owned an eatery in Kuala Lumpur. He was allegedly smuggling weapons for an international terrorist group. Interpol had placed a Red Notice - the rough equivalent of an international arrest warrant - out for him.
A 38-year-old Nepali who ran entertainment outlets and a hotel in Malaysia was said to be involved in a more sinister activity. Tan Sri Khalid said he was "suspected to be involved in falsifying travel documents for international terrorists".
Both suspects were arrested on Aug 19 and deported on Sept 2.
The other two suspects were a 26-year-old Moroccan, an alleged ISIS member who had once tried to sneak into Syria, and a 34-year-old Malaysian with ISIS links.
Both had ties to Mohamad Wanndy Mohamad Jedi, a known Malaysian ISIS fighter in Syria who is believed to be orchestrating the terror group's activities in Malaysia, said the police chief.
Wanndy, 26, is thought to have been involved in planning several terror attacks in Malaysia. Police say they have foiled most of these plots, but a June grenade blast in a Klang Valley nightclub injured eight in what was claimed to be the first attack by ISIS in the country.
Malaysia has consistently deported foreigners suspected of terror activities in a bid to deter militant groups from using it as a transit hub. Two Russians were sent back in May and a Sri Lankan on his country's wanted list was deported in April .
The smuggling of funds and firearms has long been a concern for the authorities in the region, where porous land borders and long coastlines have been a challenge to patrol.
But countries in the region have stepped up their alert against the terror threat in recent months. Last month, Indonesia arrested five members of a terror cell in Batam whose leader had been planning a rocket attack on Marina Bay, together with Syria-based ISIS militant Bahrun Naim.
Indonesia also convened an international meeting on counterterrorism to discuss ways to counter foreign terrorist fighters and their movement across borders, as well as ways to disrupt funding.
Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia agreed that the systematic exchange of biometric information such as fingerprint data on known militants and terror convicts was a key priority.
The threat has been escalating of late. In July, Indonesian security forces killed the country's most wanted terrorist, Santoso, who had pledged allegiance to ISIS and was behind numerous attacks on police in recent years.
Meanwhile, six Bangladeshis convicted of terror financing are serving jail terms of between two and five years in Singapore.
As for Malaysia, its battle against terror heightened last year after it was revealed that national leaders, including Prime Minister Najib Razak, were being targeted. In April last year, Malaysia enacted the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which gives the authorities the power to detain suspects without trial for two years.