KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's counter-terrorism police have arrested 10 people - seven Filipinos and three Malaysians – for smuggling militants into the southern Philippines, via Sabah, to join Islamic State groups over there.
The suspects, nine men and one woman, were detained in raids between Jan 24 and Feb 6, said Malaysia's Inspector-General of Police Mohamad Fuzi Harun in a press release on Wednesday (Feb 21).
Initial intelligence gathered from the detained suspects indicated that Abu Sayyaf Group’s pro-IS faction is attempting to set up a cell in the east Malaysian state of Sabah. This is to facilitate efforts to smuggle Islamic State (IS) fighters from across the region into southern Philippines to undergo military training.
“The same cell members would also be called on to launch attacks in Sabah in the future,” said Fuzi.
One of the suspects, aged 27, is the right-hand man of Abu Sayyaf’s notorious commander Furuji Indama who succeeded Isnilon Hapilon as the leader of the group’s faction based in Basilan, a Malaysian security source told Channel NewsAsia.
Furuji is known to have beheaded hostages in the past.
Isnilon was also the leader of IS in Southeast Asia. He laid siege to Marawi City last year for five months before he was killed by the military.
A successor to Isnilon as head of IS Southeast Asia has yet to be named, Philippines security sources told Channel NewsAsia.
The Malaysian source also told Channel NewsAsia that a 35-year-old Filipino suspect was the main figure in the smuggling operations.
“The suspect recruited six Malaysians and Indonesians to join Abu Sayyaf. He was planning to bring the six militants from Sandakan, Sabah and then transit on Taganak island before going to Basilan, southern Philippines,” he told Channel NewsAsia.
Malaysian police also said that Singapore authorities had on Jan 18 arrested a 34-year-old Malaysian suspected of planning to join IS in Syria. The lorry driver, who is from Penang, was handed over to the Special Branch in Johor Bahru on Feb 2 for further investigation.
Channel NewsAsia understands the man is Muhammad Nur Hanief Abdul Jalil, whose job gave him access to the restricted Changi Airfreight Centre, which provides services to Changi Airport.
Hanief became self-radicalised and was convinced that he should travel to Syria or Palestine to participate in the conflict. Singapore arrested him under the Internal Security Act and later repatriated him to Malaysia.