Updated at 9:20 a.m. ET on 2017-09-22
Malaysian authorities said Thursday they had arrested seven suspected members of the southern Philippines-based Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) who were working as security guards.
The men, between the ages of 22 and 38, were arrested on Sept. 14, Police Inspector-General Mohamad Fuzi Harun said. About two weeks earlier, police arrested two Philippine nationals and six Malaysians whose ASG cell allegedly plotted to launch a terror attack during the closing ceremony of the Southeast Asian Games and Malaysia’s National Day celebration in Kuala Lumpur.
The seven new suspects were arrested by counter-terrorism police in the states of Selangor and Kuala Lumpur, Fuzi said in a news release. Police did not name the suspects who were employed by private companies, and provided details about only one of them.
“One of the suspects, a 22-year-old, is an active member of ASG who had participated in previous clashes with Philippine’s military and was involved in kidnappings in the Southern Philippines,” Fuzi said.
All seven entered the country in September 2015 through Sandakan town, in the eastern state of Sabah, before making their way to Kuala Lumpur. Sandakan is on Sabah’s coast and has ferry services to the southern Philippines.
“The Sept. 14 operation was carried out following arrests made on Aug. 30, where an Abu Sayyaf cell had planned to launch attacks during the closing ceremony of the 29th SEA Games in Bukit Jalil, as well as the Independence Day parade at Merdeka Square,” the newly appointed police chief said in Thursday’s statement.
Among those arrested in August was ASG leader Hajar Abdul Mubin, 25, (alias Abu Asrie), described by officials as the plot’s mastermind. Abu Asrie was involved in kidnappings and clashes with soldiers in the southern Philippines before he sneaked into Sandakan and proceeded to Kuala Lumpur in December 2015, around the same time the latest suspects entered the country, according to Fuzi.
In June, Malaysian officials arrested two Indonesians and a Malaysian suspected of planning to leave Malaysia to join Islamic State-linked (IS) fighters including ASG militants battling military forces in the southern Philippine city of Marawi.
Since 2013, Malaysian authorities have arrested 339 people suspected of having links to terrorism organizations including IS. Sixty-six have been freed, according to government figures compiled by BenarNews.
Since the beginning of the year, 41 foreigners classified as “foreign terrorist fighters” have been captured in Malaysia, according to Fuzi.
He vowed that officers would continue to rid Malaysia of terrorists.
“Police will continuously launch operations to flush out terrorist elements that sneak into the country – be it to seek shelter, collect funds, launch attacks or make the country a transit point to plan attacks on another country,” he said.
This story was updated to correct the number and the nationalities of the suspects arrested on Aug. 30.