Malaysian police said Saturday a man they arrested the day before had confessed to planning a suicide attack in the country on orders from the Islamic State (IS) in Syria.
The arrest occurred as Malaysia beefed up security following a terror attack midday Thursday in Jakarta, the capital city of neighboring Indonesia, that left seven dead and 24 injured. Indonesian police said an Indonesian based in Syria had directed and financed the plan.
The 28-year-old Malaysian was arrested at a train station in Kuala Lumpur on Friday, Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar said in a statement.
“The suspect confessed he was planning to launch a suicide attack in Malaysia after receiving directions from a foreign member of the Islamic State in Syria,” Khalid said.
Khalid gave no further details about the alleged attack plan but said the suspect was also responsible for hanging IS flags at locations in Terengganu, Perak, Selangor and Johor “to warn the government to stop arresting elements of the Islamic State in Malaysia.”
Three other suspected Malaysian IS members were arrested January 11 on arrival at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) from Turkey, Khalid announced in the same statement.
Turkish authorities had apprehended the three in Gaziantep, Turkey on November 15, 2015 as they were allegedly trying to enter Syria to join the Islamic State, he said.
The trio, including a husband and wife pair, had been recruited by Muhammad Wanndy Mohamad Jedi, a Malaysian IS member in Syria, via Facebook and the messaging application Telegram, Khalid said.
More than 120 Malaysians, including 23 women, have joined IS in the Middle East, and at least 16 have died there, including two who blew themselves up in suicide missions in late December and early January, government officials confirmed this week.
The money trail
In Indonesia, meanwhile, officials announced a total of 12 people had been arrested since Thursday’s attack, including a man suspected of funding the attacks with money sent by an IS operative in Syria.
"One of the people detained had received financial transfers from ISIS to fund the operation," Reuters quoted National Police chief Badrodin Haiti as saying. ISIS is another acronym for IS.
Badrodin said IS figure Bahrun Naim sent the money from Syria via Western Union in multiple transfers of Rp. 40-70 million each (U.S. $2,880 to $5,042), according to the Indonesian media outlet Tempo.
The police chief did not name the suspect arrested in Indonesia for allegedly receiving the funds.
According to police and analysts, Bahrun Naim is an Indonesian militant based in Syria and a leader of Katibah Nusantara Lil Daulah Islamiyah, an IS unit comprised of Indonesian and Malaysian militants.
The attack in Jakarta – the first by IS in Indonesia or Malaysia – reflects the expansion of IS strategy beyond Syria and Iraq, police said.
“They have opened branches all over the world to carry out operations like those in France, Turkey and Southeast Asia,” Jakarta police chief Tito Karnavian said Thursday.
On Saturday, meanwhile, Indonesia shut down at least 11 radical websites and several social media accounts whose users were expressing support for Thursday’s attack, according to Reuters.
"We are monitoring many websites and public complaints about this," Ismail Cawidu, a spokesman for Indonesia’s communications ministry, was quoted as saying.
The government also sent letters to social media companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Telegram requesting that radical material be immediately blocked or taken down, he said.
In December, the head of Indonesia's National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) gave two different figures for the number of Indonesians who have gone to Syria and Iraq. Intelligence data says 800, whereas police have a tally of 384, he said.
“More than 169 have already come home,” Saud Usman Nasution said.
Fifty-three Indonesians have died in the Middle East, among them four suicide bombers, he said.
Officials have not given a figure for how many IS supporters or members have been arrested across the sprawling, decentralized country.