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Commentary: The Life and Death of Wanndy, Malaysia’s Top IS Recruiter

Commentary by Rohan Gunaratna
2017-05-16
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Muhammad Wanndy Mohamad Jedi (right), wife Nor Mahmudah Ahmad and an unidentified child pose in front of an Islamic State flag at an unknown location in Syria.
Courtesy of Muhammad Wanndy Mohamad Jedi

Muhammad Wanndy Bin Mohamed Jedi, Malaysia’s most wanted member of Islamic State, was a prolific recruiter for the group whose short life of upheaval ended last month in a drone strike in Syria.

When he was killed near the IS stronghold of Raqqa on April 29, the 26-year-old had built up a network of surrogates back home in Malaysia, and was linked with at least a third of the 260 people arrested in Malaysia for links to the Islamic State between 2013 and 2016, according to one report.

Malaysian police had also blamed Wanndy and his recruits for carrying out the first terrorist attack claimed by IS on home soil – a grenade blast that injured eight patrons at a Kuala Lumpur area nightclub in June 2016, for which Wanndy took credit via social media.

Since Malaysian newspapers first published his name two years ago for his apparent participation in the videotaped execution of a Syrian man captured by IS forces, he emerged as the most visible of Malaysians who had emigrated to IS’s self-proclaimed caliphate in Syria and Iraq.  

Wanndy’s life was a turbulent one tinged with loss.

He was born in Durian Tunggal, in the coastal state of Malacca, on Nov. 16, 1990, according to the U.S. Treasury Department, which branded him in March as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist.

His father died when Wanndy was very young, leaving his mother to raise him, an elder brother and two sisters on her own. Wanndy’s short temper led to his expulsion from school, and after his mother died of leukemia in 2013, relatives accused him of stealing her belongings.

From then on Wanndy, who had not been a pious Muslim, gradually became attracted to the radical ideology espoused by IS, which declared its caliphate in 2014.

As he drifted into the orbit of radicalism, Malaysian and foreign supporters of IS visited him, and Wanndy became involved in recruiting and raising money for the group. The idea of traveling to IS’s heartland in the Middle East took hold in his mind. Wanndy and his wife Nor Mahmudah Ahmad left for Syria in late January 2015; their wedding ceremony took place at a Thai border town.

After entering Syria via Turkey, Wanndy received weapons training and joined the external operations wing of IS. He grabbed the attention of the intelligence community by taking part in filming the beheading of a Syrian captive. Another Malaysian involved in that effort, Mohd Faris Anuar, was killed later that year in an airstrike in Iraq.

As an IS member, Wanndy carried a gun and engaged in guard duty in Raqqa. But, using his computer, and despite his poor education, he became Malaysia’s most prolific recruiter for IS back home. Starting in 2016, Malaysian Special Branch arrested on average one IS supporter or operative linked to Wanndy every week.

Among them was his brother, Mohamed Danny Mohamed Jedi. In April 2016, Malaysian authorities arrested him in Selangor state on charges that he had allowed Wanndy to use his bank account to deposit and transfer money for IS and for Wanndy’s own expenses in Syria.

Bent on terrorism back home

While in Syria, Wanndy joined Al Qubro, an IS-linked group in Malaysia. Al Qubro invited him to join their online group, thinking his presence would add credibility to their fundraising and other efforts. But unlike other members of the group, Wanndy expressed a desire to conduct terrorist attacks on Malaysian soil. This did not sit well with Al Qubro’s leader, and the two men fell out.

It was then that Wanndy began to operate independently. Taking to the online platforms of Facebook and Telegram, he spread IS propaganda targeted to youths back home and built up a network of operatives and supporters who raised funds and plotted attacks on Malaysian soil.

After he orchestrated the June 2016 grenade attack at the Movida nightclub in Puchong, Wanndy boasted about it and became overconfident that he could repeat this success. But Malaysian authorities responded decisively. They disrupted plots to attack police headquarters, government complexes in Putrajaya, and the Platinum Night Club in Johor Bahru.

Before he died, Wanndy had grown desperate to pull off another attack in Malaysia. He was under severe pressure from IS to mount another terrorist attack, according to Malaysian news reports. Following his brother’s arrest on charges related to terror financing, Wanndy was also accused of misspending IS money for his own expenses and in support of his family.

When the air strike blew away Wanndy on April 29, he died with an apocalyptic vision in mind, convinced that the end of times was coming.

It is likely that Wanndy will be replaced, though perhaps not by a single person. Mohd Rafi Udin alias Abu Awn Al-Malizi, 51; Wan Mohd Aquil Wan Zainal Abidin alias Akel Zainal, 38; Zahar Abdullah, 36; and Muhammad Fudhail Omar, 25, are actively recruiting Malaysians to migrate to Syria as well as inspiring and supporting new recruits to launch attacks in Malaysia.

Rohan Gunaratna is Professor of Security Studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at the Nanyang Technology University and head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research in Singapore.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and not of BenarNews.

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