Malaysia police nab 11 suspected militants, including seven Filipinos

One of the suspected militants detained in Sandakan on Jan 25, 2018.
One of the suspected militants detained in Sandakan on Jan 25, 2018.PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

KUALA LUMPUR - Eleven suspects were arrested in the latest swoop in recent weeks as Malaysia stepped up its security following growing concerns over the threat of militants using the country as a transit point and forged documents to stay off the radar.

The suspects - 10 men and a woman - were detained in a series of operations in Johor and Sabah between Jan 25 and Feb 6.

They included seven Philippine nationals.

They were arrested for their suspected links to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror group, which is also called IS, and involvement in arranging for the safe passage of militants to the southern Philippines.

Malaysia's top cop Mohamad Fuzi Harun in a statement said five men, including three Filipinos, were detained in the first round of arrests in Sandakan, Sabah on Jan 25 and 26.

"Two of them worked as labourers, one an unlicensed moneylender, one a boat operator and another was unemployed.

"One of them, a 39-year-old Filipino, had pledged his alliance and received orders from a senior IS militant in southern Philippines to arrange safe passage for militants from Sandakan to Zamboanga, where they would join the IS faction there," he said.

These suspects were aged between aged 33 and 50 .

Tan Sri Fuzi said the same Filipino man had received military style training from the terror group.

The other four suspects are believed to have assisted the 39-year-old Filipino to smuggle militants into the southern Philippines via Sandakan, he said.

In a separate arrest, police detained another four individuals - three male Filipinos and a Malaysian woman aged between 27 and 32 - in Penampang, Sabah on Feb 4.

One of them is 27-year-old senior member of the Abu Sayyaf militant group, which is based in Basilan.

Another suspect, a 32 year old Malaysian, had helped a foreign militant make his way to the southern Philippines, he said.

The arrests led authorities to detain a 49-year-old Filipino man, who worked as a cab driver and holds a Malaysian permanent-resident status, on Feb 6 in Sandakan.

Mr Fuzi said based on the arrests in Sabah, it is learnt that the Abu Sayyaf group was attempting to form a terror cell in Sabah so that they could successfully arrange for the safe passage of ISIS militants in the region to the southern Philippines.

"The militants were to receive weapons training in the Philippines. The same terror cell in Sabah would later have been used to launch attacks in the state," he said.

The arrests were announced two days after Malaysia's Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said he had ordered random checks to be carried out on people travelling between Sabah and Peninsular Malaysia to catch those who might be using fake Malaysian identity cards, including militants.

Datuk Seri Zahid, who is also the deputy prime minister, said random checks at airports were necessary to identify holders of fake identity cards. This was in response to news reports that a suspected militant had been found living in Peninsular Malaysia using a fake identity card obtained from Sabah.

In a separate case, a 38-year-old Malaysian man was previously detained in Singapore on Jan 18 was also arrested after he was deported to Malaysia on Feb 2.

The man, who is from Penang, was believed to have planned to head to Syria to join IS.

nrodzi@sph.com.sg