Malaysian police Wednesday announced the recent arrests of six Islamic State (IS) suspects and said they had warned Thai authorities about a seventh one, an alleged firearms smuggler, who fled across the border into southern Thailand.
The arrests occurred in several Malaysian states from late March to late April and the suspect at-large, 27-year-old Muhammad Muzaffa Arieff Junaidi, escaped to Thailand by crossing the Golok River along the border on March 22, Malaysia’s police chief said. The suspect was armed with an M4 carbine assault rifle and pistol.
One of the six suspects in custody was a 26-year-old female college student in the Malaysian capital, who was arrested at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on April 4 after being deported by Turkish authorities, Police Inspector-General Khalid Abu Bakar said in a statement.
“The woman had left the country for Turkey on Aug. 29, 2016, to join IS in Syria. On Feb. 5, she was nabbed by Turkish authorities while awaiting orders from Muhammad Wanndy Mohamed Jedi to enter Syria,” Khalid said, referring to a Malaysian IS militant based in Syria.
The suspect on the run, Muhammad Muzaffa, hails from the village of Gertak, Rantau Panjang, in Kelantan state, which lies just across Malaysia’s border with Thailand, Khalid said, adding that two other members of Muzaffa’s weapons-smuggling cell were nabbed in the same state days later.
Across the border in Thailand’s insurgency-wracked Deep South, Lt. Gen. Piyawat Nakwanich, the commander of the 4th Army regional command, said police and military were searching for Muzaffa.
Malaysian police released the picture of suspect Muhammad Muzaffa Arieff Junaidi, who is believed to have fled to southern Thailand on March 22. [Courtesy of Malaysian police]
“We know that there are natural passes between Thailand and Malaysia, but I don’t want the public to get panicky because it can be false information,” Piyawat told reporters, adding, “Violence in Deep South certainly has nothing to do with the IS.”
In Bangkok, Thai Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-o-cha said no Thais were involved with the Middle East-based extremist group Islamic State and that the government was prepared to deal with the suspect if he were caught.
“The security officials are looking into this issue, and if we find him, we will coordinate to send him back. It is sensitive so I don’t want to disclose that much information,” Prayuth told reporters at Government House on Wednesday.
The six Malaysian suspects, including two women, were rounded up by the Federal Police Counter-Terrorism division in the states of Melaka, Johor, Kelantan, Penang and Selangor, from March 24 to April 25, according to Khalid.
“The first two suspects, ages 26 and 41, were arrested in Kelantan on March 24 and 25, respectively. The duo was responsible for smuggling firearms into the country from Southern Thailand, for use by IS militants in Malaysia,” he said.
A security official said the two suspects had been smuggling weapons into Malaysia for almost a year. “The weapons smuggled from syndicates in southern Thailand into Kelantan are worth about 6,000 ringgit (U.S. $1,400),” the official, who requested anonymity, told BenarNews.
Another suspect was a 41-year-old unemployed man who had joined IS in Syria and was arrested in the state of Malacca on April 20, according to Khalid. A 32-year-old woman who worked as an assistant engineer in Johor and had been promoting IS online, was arrested on the same day.
“The sixth suspect was arrested in Penang on April 25. The 41-year-old man, who was also unemployed, had been actively promoting IS through 15 Facebook pages that belonged to him, since 2014.
“The suspect had also been planning to launch attacks on Shiite mosques in Penang,” Khalid said without naming the mosques.
He said all six suspects were being held under the Security Offenses (Special Measures) Act 2012, which allows police to hold suspects for 28 days without charges.
Since 2013, Malaysian authorities have arrested 300 people suspected of having links to IS, of whom 66 have since been freed, according to the latest figures obtained by BenarNews.
Last month, Khalid said 49 Malaysian IS militants were planning to return to Malaysia and eight had already returned.
“Some of them, whose husbands have been killed, the wives married other IS militants. Their children are under the care of other militant families,” he said.
Doubts about Wanndy
As for Muhammad Wanndy, whom the United States recently named a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist,” Malaysian authorities are challenging an account said to have been posted by his wife on Facebook post, in which she claimed that her husband was killed by a drone strike in Syria.
“We doubt this report and we are checking whether indeed he was killed,” Khalid said. “There could be reasons for Wanndy to actually stage his own death, we know.”
BenarNews staff in the Thai Deep South contributed to this report.