8 Abu Sayyaf Group Suspects Picked Up in Malaysian Capital

Razlan Rashid
Kuala Lumpur
2017-09-03
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170903-MY-parade-1000 Members of the Royal Malaysia Police’s elite counter-terrorist UTK unit take part in a parade celebrating the 60th National Day, at Independence Square in Kuala Lumpur, Aug. 31, 2017.
AFP

Malaysian authorities have arrested eight suspected members of the southern Philippine-based Abu Sayyaf Group militant group in Kuala Lumpur, including a leading Filipino ASG operative, Malaysia’s counter-terrorist police chief confirmed.

The suspects, two Philippine nationals and six Malaysians, were picked up by police in the Kuala Lumpur district of Cheras on Wednesday – the eve of national celebrations of Malaysia’s 60th Independence Day – according to the Star, a local English-language newspaper that broke the story on Sunday.

But the report did not say what they were arrested for or whether their arrests were connected to any plot or militant activity tied to the celebrations, and Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, the chief of the national police’s counter-terrorist declined to go into detail.

“Yes, I confirm [this]. But wait for the official press release,” Ayob told BenarNews on Sunday, saying his department was busy preparing for a sending off ceremony on Monday for Police Inspector-General Khalid Abu Bakar, who is retiring.

The suspects in custody include six Malaysians from the eastern state of Sabah who are of Philippine heritage and two Filipinos, including 25-year-old Hajar Abdul Mubin (alias Abu Asrie). According to the report in the Star, he is an Abu Sayyaf leader who belonged to a kidnap-for-ransom gang, the so-called “Lucky Nine” band affiliated with ASG and based in Jolo and Basilan, in the southern Philippines.

ASG is notorious for abducting civilians from different countries and executing foreign hostages when ransoms are not met. Some of the group’s fighters are linked with the extremist organization Islamic State (IS), and have also been involved in occupying the southern Philippine city of Marawi and battling Philippine government forces there for the past three months.

The report said Abu Asrie had slipped into Malaysia in 2015 after meeting several suspected Malaysian IS militants including Mahmud Ahmad, who allegedly is a conduit for IS funds coming from the Middle East. Mahmud was actively involved in the Marawi siege together with ASG leader Isnilon Hapilon, who is the recognized regional leader of Islamic State.

“The Malaysians, who are believed to be from Sandakan and working in Kuala Lumpur, were aged between 20 and 52,” the report said, quoting an intelligence source.  

The source said some of the suspects were working as security guards and the country’s civil voluntary corps, which is better known as RELA.

Duterte moots trilateral task force

News of the arrests in Kuala Lumpur came out the same day that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said that he planned to hold meetings with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and Indonesian President Joko Widodo to discuss the idea of forming a trilateral joint task force to counter IS-linked militancy in the region, Reuters reported.

“We have agreed that we will talk, the three of us. We are just waiting for the right time,” Duterte told reporters on Sunday.

“In all probability, it will be a joint … task force. And I will open my borders to the Malaysian authorities and Indonesian authorities. They’ll be given access,” Reuters quoted him as saying.

Spurred on by the IS-linked Marawi siege and fueled by abductions carried out at sea by suspected ASG gunmen, the three neighboring countries in June launched joint security patrols off the southern Philippines and Borneo island to contain the IS extremist threat.

In Malaysia alone, including the arrests of the eight people with alleged ties to ASG, authorities since 2013 have arrested 318 people suspected of having to Islamic State, of whom 66 have since been freed, according to government figures compiled by BenarNews.

N. Natha in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.

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