One of the eight, identified as Ridce Elfi Hendra, was found with one image of a shoe bomb and two images of Islamic State (IS), said Ayub Khan Mydin Pitchay, principal assistant director of Special Branch’s counter-terrorism division.
“They claimed to be preachers from the Tabligh Jamaat movement, which is also sometimes known as Tabligh. They said they have been preaching in madrasahs (religious boarding schools) in Pattani, southern Thailand and then travelled down to Malaysia’s state of Perlis. They later came to Malacca to meet with a preacher there,” said Ayub.
Tabligh Jamaat is a global Sunni Muslim missionary group.
“We will be investigating the madrasahs and the preacher whom they met with,” Ayub added.
The men were in Malaysia from Jan 3 to 10 and claimed they were from Padang, West Sumatra, Indonesia.
A senior Indonesian counter-terrorism official told Channel NewsAsia that “initial interrogation showed they were not IS members”.
“They are just preachers. This is the result of our initial investigation,” said the Indonesian official.
Ayub said the men tried to enter Singapore at 1.30am on Jan 10 and were detained by Singapore’s immigration authorities and deported to Malaysia. They were held by Malaysia’s Special Branch counter-terrorism officers at 2am.
They were deported to Indonesia’s island of Batam at 9am that same day and handed over to Indonesian police counter-terrorism taskforce Densus 88.
DEPORTEE HAD IMAGES OF SHOE BOMB, IS FIGHTERS
Singapore's Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) confirmed on Thursday evening that the eight Indonesians - aged between 16 and 37 - were deported to Malaysia on Jan 10.
"One of them was found in possession of images of security concern, including that of a shoe-bomb as well as fighters from the terrorist group that calls itself the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria," MHA said.
“The Singapore authorities informed their Malaysian counterparts before the deportation,” added a spokesperson for MHA.
According to Ayub, the Tabligh movement's teachings in Malaysia have been mostly peaceful and moderate.
“There have been only one or two cases at the most where its followers were found to be radical. They joined Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and the Malaysian Mujahidin Movement (KMM),” said Ayub.
JI is the regional terror group behind the devastating 2002 Bali bombings. KMM, which is also known as the Malaysian Militant Movement, is a militant group with links to JI, which believes in overthrowing the secular Malaysian government and replacing it with an Islamic state.
Tabligh has been described by Muslim scholars as apolitical and somewhat secretive. It was founded in 1927.
Its biggest annual event is a three-day prayer and fast held in Bangladesh that attracts millions and is believed to be one of the largest gatherings of Muslims in the world after the Haj pilgrimage.