Malaysia Foils Alleged IS Terror Plot on Eve of Independence Day

Melati A. Jalil
Kuala Lumpur
160831-MY-girl-1000 A girl watches Malaysia’s National Day parade at Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square) in Kuala Lumpur, Aug. 31, 2016.

Malaysia’s Independence Day celebrations were overshadowed Wednesday by news that police had disrupted an alleged Islamic State plot to launch terrorist attacks on the eve of the national day.

Malaysian authorities Wednesday announced that police had arrested three suspected IS supporters in three states who were allegedly plotting a series of strikes for Tuesday that targeted a number of sites, including ones that draw crowds.

The suspects had been directed by Muhammad Wanndy Mohamad Jedi, a Malaysian citizen also known as Abu Hamzah al-Fateh, who is fighting for IS in Syria and is believed to have ordered a grenade attack on a nightclub in Puchong, Malaysia, that injured eight people in late June, officials said.

The trio of suspects was arrested as part of a three-day operation mounted from Aug. 27 through Aug. 29, the nation’s police chief said in a statement released on the day that Malaysians thronged to Dataran Merdaka (Independence Square) in Kuala Lumpur to watch a parade marking the 59th anniversary of Malaysia’s freedom from British colonial rule.

The suspects were picked up by officers from the counter-terrorist branch in Kuala Lumpur, Selangor and Pahang, Police Inspector-General Khalid Abu Bakar said.

“They were planning to launch attacks at an entertainment center in Kuala Lumpur, a Hindu temple in Batu Caves, Selangor, and on a police station or any policeman by using hand grenades or firearms on the eve of Merdeka (Independence Day) 2016,” Khalid said.

Apart from drawing members of Malaysia’s Hindu minority, the temple is popular with tourists.

Khalid said the suspects, aged between 20 and 27, were members of the same IS cell, and had received orders from Wanndy.

“All the suspects were planning to head to Syria to join the IS militant group once they had successfully launched the attack, with the assistance from Wanndy,” Khalid said.

The first suspect, a truck driver, was captured in Selangor state on Saturday. Police seized a grenade, pistol and 24 rounds of ammunition. The second and third suspects, aged 27 and 20, were arrested in Pahang state and Kuala Lumpur on Monday, Khalid added.

Police did not release the names of the suspects, but said the other two were employed as a butcher and a drink seller, according to reports.

On June 28, IS claimed its first successful terrorist attack on Malaysian soil when eight patrons at the Movida nightclub in Puchong were hurt when a grenade exploded as patrons were watching a football match on television.

At least six people have been arrested in connection with the attack. Two of those suspects have pled guilty to charges, including attempted murder, and four others have been charged with abetting the alleged attackers.

Since 2013, Malaysian authorities have arrested at least 230 suspected IS members and have warned that Malaysians returning from combat stints in Syria or Iraq could launch terrorist attacks at home. At least 72 alleged IS members have been charged in court.

Malaysian officers in Selangor state arrest a suspected Islamic State supporter, whose face was blurred by police and who allegedly was part of a conspiracy to launch terrorist attacks tied to the nation’s Independence Day, Aug. 27, 2016. [Courtesy of Royal Malaysia Police]

Najib addresses nation

Meanwhile, thousands of Malaysians took to the streets of the capital on Wednesday to celebrate Independence Day, which was presided over by Prime Minister Najib Razak, Malaysia’s king and other dignitaries.

Najib, who has faced widespread criticism during the past year and calls for his resignation over a corruption scandal linked to state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), told his countrymen that Malaysia’s achievements were globally recognized and that critics were wrong to call the country a failed state under his leadership.

The prime minister also figured prominently as “Malaysian Official 1” in lawsuits filed by the U.S. Department of Justice last month that seek to recover assets allegedly paid for with money stolen from 1MDB, according to the Wall Street Journal.

In his speech, Najib lambasted his critics, calling them “internal enemies that wanted to poison people’s minds” and adding that they were propagating “a new form of colonialism”.

Yet as Malaysia marks its 59th anniversary of independence from Britain, the government needs to be more transparent if it hopes to be recognized as a mature nation, political analyst Shaharuddin Badaruddin said.

“[I]n the aspect of good governance, we are still lacking the transparent element in a lot of issues – on abuse of power and money,” he told BenarNews.

Malaysia is going through a test of maturity and it remains to be seen if political differences will supersede the nation’s interest, said Sivamurugan Pandian, an associate professor of social sciences at Universiti Sains Malaysia.

“In the end, we have to decide what we want for the nation. Are we focusing solely on political issues or do we want to move beyond that, because there is an economic disparity between the lower class, middle class and upper class,” he told BenarNews.


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