Malaysia on alert as Mosul offensive stokes fears of militant influx

Iraqi forces hold a position in the area of al-Shurah, some 45km south of Mosul, as they advance towards the city to retake it ISIS, on Oct 17, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

KUALA LUMPUR (REUTERS) - Malaysia has stepped up security at its borders in case Malaysian militant fighters try to return home after Iraqi forces launched a major offensive to take back the militant stronghold of Mosul, deputy prime minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said on Tuesday (Oct 18).

Iraqi government forces launched a US-backed offensive on Monday to drive the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) from the northern city of Mosul, the group's last major stronghold in Iraq.

Around 4,000 to 8,000 militants, a mix of Iraqi and foreign fighters, are estimated to be in the city.

Mr Ahmad Zahid told a news conference that Malaysian airport and border security had been increased, while illegal routes commonly used by smugglers were being monitored.

"We have been exchanging intel with international intelligence agencies, and we have a suspect list which includes names of those we believe have ties with Daesh," he said, using an alternate name for ISIS.

He did not state how many Malaysians were currently in Mosul but police figures released last month showed that 90 Malaysians had joined ISIS since 2013.

In August, Malaysia revoked the passports of 68 Malaysians who had been identified as leaving the country to join Islamic State.

Returning fighters would be detained and sent for deradicalisation, Mr Ahmad Zahid said.

A total of 137 people have been arrested for either planning to join ISIS overseas, returning to Malaysia after joining the group, or sending funds to the group, he added.

Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein had said on Monday that intelligence sources suggested that thousands of ISIS members would make their way back to their countries of origin, or find safe havens in regions such as South-east Asia, if the Mosul offensive succeeds.

"We have to be very proactive," he was quoted as saying by state news agency Bernama.

Authorities in Muslim-majority Malaysia have been on high alert since ISIS-linked militants carried out an armed attack in the capital of neighbouring Indonesia in January.

In June, eight people were injured when two ISIS supporters threw a grenade into a bar on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, the first successful attack by the group in the Malaysia.

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