KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian authorities have arrested 19 suspected terrorists, including eight Abu Sayyaf militants, in a series of swoops across four states in the last few weeks.
The suspects included eight Malaysians and 11 foreigners. The foreigners were from Bangladesh, Maldives, Iraq, Palestine, the Philippines and Indonesia. They were nabbed by the Special Branch Counter-Terrorism Division in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Kelantan and Johor, between July 4 and Aug 30.
Their arrests added to more than 260 Malaysians and foreigners who have been put behind bars by the authorities since 2013, as Malaysia battles supporters and sympathisers of terror organisation Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and its affiliates.
Those arrested in the past included Malaysians who were army personnel and policemen, and those who had worked as immigration officers, along with women who wanted to travel to Syria to join ISIS. Three Malaysians, who were part of an ISIS terror cell here, were arrested for smuggling guns to be used for terror attacks in the country.
Malaysia is a magnet for tens of thousands of students from Muslim countries and migrant workers seeking higher pay, and they were among those who had been arrested in recent years.
In the latest arrests, Malaysia's newly appointed police chief Mohamad Fuzi Harun said that two of the suspects had planned to launch attacks during the closing ceremony of the 29th South-east Asia Games in Bukit Jalil and during Malaysia's National Day celebration on Aug 31 at Dataran Merdeka, a public square in KL.
In the first raid, a 25-year-old Bangladeshi man who worked as a temporary teacher at a religious school in Gombak, Selangor, was arrested on July 4. He is suspected to be a member of Jamatul Mujahideen Bangladesh, an affiliate ISIS.
"He is wanted by the Bangladeshi police force. He entered Malaysia on Sept 4 last year to further his studies at a public higher education institution," said Inspector General of Police Mohamad Fuzi.
Datuk Seri Mohamad Fuzi said others brought in by the police included two men - a Palestinian and an Iraqi - on Aug 15 and Aug 16 in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor.
"The Palestinian man had planned to head to southern Philippines to the ISIS faction there, and the Iraqi man is believed to be linked to an ISIS-friendly Albanian terror cell.
"We also arrested two Indonesian men in Petaling Jaya on Aug 25 for actively recruiting militants for ISIS. They were planning to head to Syria," the top cop said.
The arrests added to the eight members of the Abu Sayyaf group - two Philippines nationals and six Malaysians - who were picked up with cooperation of Malaysia's elite Special Action Unit (UTK) on Aug 30.
Datuk Seri Mohamad Fuzi said the mastermind of the Abu Sayyaf group, a 25-year-old man, had snuck into Sandakan, Sabah before heading to Kuala Lumpur in December, 2015.
"He was involved in the kidnappings of six Philippines nationals as well clashes with the Philippines military. He is also responsible for beheading a Christian hostage in southern Philippines in 2010.
"He is believed to have held meetings with Malaysian militants Dr Mahmud Ahmad, Mohd Najib Hussein and Muhammad Juraimee Awang Ramlee at Kampung Tipo-Tipo in Basilan, in September, 2015.
"Based on intelligence, the same suspect had planned to launch attacks during the closing of the SEA Games in Bukit Jalil and during the National Day celebration in Dataran Merdeka," Mr Fuzi said.