The Malaysian authorities detained 350 migrant workers yesterday in a security sweep in a commercial centre in Negeri Sembilan state, in search of suspected fighters linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror group.
It was the third mass security sweep in a week, just ahead of the South-east Asian Games hosted by Malaysia that will start on Saturday.
Led by Malaysia's Special Branch Counter Terrorism Division, 321 officers from various agencies raided 742 premises at the commercial area in Nilai 3, about 10km away from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) in Sepang.
A police helicopter hovered overhead as officers swooped into the sprawling commercial centre in Nilai town known for its cheap furniture and household items.
Businesses in Nilai 3 ground to a halt after hundreds of their workers, mainly those from Pakistan and Afghanistan, were detained pending screenings at the Sepang district police headquarters.
Police say they were targeting suspected fighters of the ISIS-K, the Khorasan chapter of ISIS.
"We are combing this area due to the density of foreigners from Pakistan and Afghanistan here," the police's Special Branch Counter Terrorism Division chief Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay told reporters.
350 Migrant workers detained.
742 Number of premises raided.
321 Number of officers from various agencies involved.
"This is a proactive measure to see if there is any spillage (of ISIS-K fighters), given that these communities come from nations that are on high alert for terror activities. The probability of them having links (to terrorism) is higher."
ISIS-K occupies a region in the north-eastern province of Iran.
Khorasan is a historic name for the region that covers Afghanistan, Pakistan, parts of India and other surrounding countries.
The main terror group ISIS put up a stronghold in Khorasan about two years ago, media reports say. An ISIS spokesman had declared in 2015 the "expansion" of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's "caliphate" into the "lands of Khorasan".
Malaysian security officers yesterday, armed with rifles and radiation-detecting devices, subdued suspects and recovered weapons.
"We found four long machetes and a sledgehammer at the premises (one suspect) works at. We also picked up 36 foreign workers there," said Datuk Ayob. "Some claimed to have valid travel documents and work permits but we still detain them and cross-check their background with Interpol Foreign Terrorist Fighter database, as well as the Special Branch Lookup database among others," he said.
In a bid to escape, a foreign man fled to the nearest jungle before climbing up a tree. His attempt was unfruitful as branches falling from the tree gave him away to security personnel.
Another worker suffered a head injury after he tripped on a carpet during an attempt to run away.
Yesterday's major sweep was the third in the past week. The Malaysian authorities last week detained nearly 700 foreigners in downtown Kuala Lumpur and in Cyberjaya town, near KLIA.
Malaysia has said it is looking for at least 16 militants deported from Turkey. KL has protested against Turkey's procedure of allowing suspected militants to choose their destination for deportation without informing the receiving country.