KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian police have arrested 20 terror suspects, including seven Filipinos, five Indonesians and one North African, in a sting operation across multiple states.
The suspects included leaders of terror groups in Indonesia and southern Philippines.
They were detained in Johor, Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Sabah between Nov 30 and Dec 15, said Malaysia’s inspector-general of police Mohamad Fuzi Harun in a press release on Friday (Dec 22).
IS MINDANAO THE NEW TERROR HOTSPOT?
Sixteen of the suspects were attempting to infiltrate and join terror groups in southern Philippines.
These arrests come after earlier warnings that Mindanao is the new extremist zone for militants as Islamic State (IS) loses its territories in the Middle East.
“That is a possibility (Mindanao is a new jihad zone) because (IS) has been looking for new areas. This (Mindanao) is one of the options for them,” Mr Fuzi told Channel NewsAsia in a phone interview.
“We have been talking about this before,” he added.
A counter-terrorism source told Channel NewsAsia most of the suspects were planning to join the Abu Sayyaf Group in Mindanao.
“They (suspects) wanted to go to southern Philippines to join Abu Sayyaf to take part in jihad,” said the source.
A FORMER TEACHER AMONG SUSPECTS
At least 15 of the suspects attempting to infiltrate southern Philippines were arrested in Sandakan, Sabah, underscoring the continued use of Sandakan by militants as a transit point into Mindanao island.
The first Sandakan arrest was made on Dec 4 where four Indonesians aged between 31 and 38 were caught after entering into the city from the Indonesian towns of Tarakan and Nunukan in the North Kalimantan province, said Mr Fuzi.
The second Sandakan arrest, and incidentally the biggest arrest, was made on Dec 10 where six Malaysians and five Filipinos were caught for planning to join terror groups in southern Philippines, said the statement.
The men were aged between 16 and 47.
A former Malaysian teacher, 46, was arrested at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) in Sepang for also attempting to go to southern Philippines to join terror groups operating there.
“The suspect is a member of the Whatsapp (chatgroup) The Rise Of Jundullah that was involved in the plan to launch attacks against The Better Beer Festival 2017,” said Mr Fuzi.
A Filipino suspect, wanted by Philippine authorities for various terror activities, was arrested in Masai, Johor, said the statement.
The suspect has links with the slain, pro-IS Abu Sayyaf leader, Isnilon Hapilon, according to the counter-terrorism source.
The sting operation also netted a leader of Indonesia’s foremost pro-IS group, Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), the group behind a string of terror attacks, including the May 2017 blast at Jakarta’s Kampung Melayu bus terminal and the 2016 bombing at a Starbucks Cafe in Jakarta.
The Indonesian suspect, 24, was arrested in Pontian, Johor on Nov 30. He was allegedly also involved in a July 2017 bomb blast in Bandung, according to the statement.
“The suspect is one of the leaders of the Jamaah Ansharut Daulah who was planning to collect funds in Malaysia before going to Syria to join the Daesh terror group,” added Mr Fuzi.
Another Filipino man, 50, with links to the notorious Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), was arrested in Kuala Lumpur and is believed to have been trying to recruit Filipinos in the Kepong area to join ASG in southern Philippines, according to the statement.
Police also arrested a North African man aged 31 on Dec 15 at KLIA for alleged terror activities in his home country.
“The suspect has been arrested before by Turkey authorities in September 2016 for his involvement with Daesh in Iraq and Syria. The suspect entered Malaysia in early December from a neighbouring country,” said Mr Fuzi.
“He was successfully arrested as a result of intelligence sharing with foreign enforcement agencies,” Mr Fuzi added.