KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysian police are pursuing the terrorism money trail of arrested Malaysians linked to the banned Sri Lankan militant group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Police detected "big amounts" being transferred among the 12 suspects detained last Thursday (Oct 11) and Saturday, said Bukit Aman Special Branch Counter Terrorism Division (E8) head Deputy Comm Datuk Ayob Khan.
"We believe such transactions to fund LTTE-related activities were conducted over a few years.
"It is still too early in the investigation but tracing such transactions, including bank accounts and recipients of the funds, is vital in our investigation into LTTE elements in Malaysia," he told The Star.
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Monday defended the arrests using the tough security law that allows for detention without trial - Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma) - after an MP from the Democratic Action Party (DAP) criticised the police.
"In the absence of alternative laws, Sosma can still be applied," the Premier said.
"The police have briefed me. They (the police) have reasons to take action. I am satisfied with the explanation given by police on the crackdown," he told reporters after attending an event.
The arrest of the 12 men have raised tensions within the four-party Pakatan Harapan (PH) governing coalition, as two of those nabbed were state lawmakers from the DAP - a PH member.
DAP's top officials say the party does not promote violence, and that the police did not give them a warning before detaining the assemblymen from Negeri Sembilan and Melaka.
Penang deputy chief minister P. Ramasamy, a member of the DAP's central executive committee, told Malaysiakini news site that Tun Mahathir's justification of the arrests using Sosma is hard to swallow.
“I am taken aback. In the last general election, Harapan fought tooth and nail against BN (Barisan Nasional) based on our manifesto which, among others, promised the removal of draconian laws,” he said.
Mr Ramasamy told Malaysiakini he was not questioning the police probe into the matter but that the detentions could have been carried out under the Penal Code.
Meanwhile, Mr Ayob said that so far, investigations have revealed that the money transfers occurred in the country only, but sources are not ruling out that international transactions are at play as well.
"For terrorism financing, the amount is not the main issue. The real offence is financing or helping terrorism groups by transferring funds.
"We've even detained those who donated RM100 (S$32.75) to terrorism groups," DCP Ayob said.
Police believed that an NGO with branches nationwide has been actively securing funds for LTTE-related activities and to revive the terror group, he said.
Between the 1980s and 2009, several NGOs were established in Malaysia to collect money and channel it to the terror group, he said.
"We also made several arrests on LTTE elements over the years, including its leaders.
"One of the cases was a seizure of a shipment of weapons in Penang in the 1990s meant for LTTE fighters," he said.
Last Saturday, five more men were detained for alleged links to LTTE. This followed the arrests of seven men, including the two DAP assemblymen, on Thursday, bringing the total number of those arrested to 12.
DCP Ayob said police detained a 52-year-old teacher in Telok Panglima Garang, Banting, Selangor, who is suspected of supporting and promoting LTTE on social media.
"We also arrested a 38-year-old executive officer and a 43-year-old city councillor in Durian Tunggal, Melaka.
"We have evidence that both men had organised the LTTE Warriors' Day celebration in Melaka on Nov 28 last year," he said.
Police also detained a 26-year-old factory worker and a 29-year-old security supervisor in Bukit Mertajam, Penang, DCP Ayob said.
"We believe they supported and promoted LTTE on social media. We also seized LTTE-related items, including photos, posters and books," he said.
On civil society groups' claim that the police should have recorded the statements of the two assemblymen instead of detaining them, he said all suspects were arrested under the Security Offences Special Measures (Sosma) 2012, as it was a security offence and not a normal criminal investigation.
"If we merely recorded their statements, I believe they will give 'on the surface' or bare minimum statements.
"They were detained under Sosma to enable us to investigate further and seize crucial items pertaining to the investigation," he said.
DCP Ayob said Tamil Nadu political leader Senthamizhan Seeman might be banned from entering Malaysia if police find that he is linked to LTTE.
"We are aware that Seeman has been entering Malaysia numerous times to meet politicians.
"However, we will investigate and see how deep is his role in channelling funds to LTTE or promoting the terror group.
"If there is a basis, we will ask the Immigration Department to ban him from entering the country," he said.
On DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng saying that police assured him no more leaders from DAP would be arrested linked to LTTE, DCP Ayob said he was not sure where the Finance Minister got his information.
"He did not get it from me. I have never issued a statement that we will stop this investigation as there is no reason to do so. If we have enough evidence and basis, we will investigate and make more arrests," he said.
He also stressed that there was no bias in arrests made by counter-terrorism officers.
"Those involved in supporting, promoting or securing funds for terror groups will be arrested regardless of their political affiliation, race or religion," DCP Ayob said.
He also advised all parties not to confuse sympathy for the plight of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka with supporting LTTE.
"There is nothing wrong in sympathising with the Tamils in Sri Lanka but it is an offence to support LTTE, as they are a terror group.
"I sympathise with the Tamils too but I don't support LTTE.
"Don't confuse the plight of the Tamils (in Sri Lanka) to the terrorism acts of LTTE," he said.