Police in Malaysia said Thursday they had arrested three remaining members of an Islamic State (IS) cell, while a department source identified a Malaysian militant in Syria – an ex-rocker – as the one who ordered them to conduct terror attacks at home during Ramadan.
The three suspects – two Malaysians and an Indonesian – were picked up in northern Kedah state and in Selangor state on Tuesday in the wake of the arrests of four other cell members, including two Rohingya, in early May.
Police allege that the members of the IS cell planned to carry out terrorist acts and assassinations during the first week of the Muslim fasting month, which began May 5, to avenge the death of a Malay Muslim firefighter during a riot at a local Hindu temple last November.
When he announced the first four arrests on Monday, Malaysian police chief Abdul Hamid Bador said the IS cell members had received orders from a Malaysian militant operating in Syria, but his identity was unknown.
On Thursday, a high-placed police source identified the cell’s Syrian contact to BenarNews.
“Investigations revealed the person is Akel Zainal (whose real name is Wan Mohd Aquil Wan Zainal),” the source said, adding that investigators were not sure if he was still alive after the fall of the last IS stronghold in Syria in March.
While naming Akel, the source said investigators had some doubts about his identity.
“We could not confirm it. The person could be Akel or could be someone who impersonated him. The situation in Syria is quite volatile now. We could not pinpoint his whereabouts,” he said.
Akel rose to fame as a drummer in a 1990s Malaysian rock band. In 2014, he left Malaysia to join IS in Syria, police said.
Following the death in 2017 of Muhammad Wanndy Mohamed Jedi, who had been Malaysia’s top IS recruiter, investigators identified Akel as one of four who likely would take over his recruiting role.
The source said one of the cell members told police that Akel, through a middleman, had provided them with a pistol, 15 bullets and improvised explosive devices in order to launch attacks in Malaysia. The weapons and explosives were seized when the first four suspects were captured.
Bomb training in Indonesia
In a statement on Thursday, Abdul Hamid said the two Malaysian suspects – Muhammad Syazani Mahzan and Muhamad Nuurul Amin Azizan – were picked up in Kedah on May 14.
“Both were nabbed when their respective families turned them in to police after they were listed as wanted the day before,” he said, adding that Muhammad Syazani had allegedly planned to launch attacks on non-Muslim houses of worship in Malaysia.
The two, along with fellow Malaysian Muhammad Izham Razani, who was arrested on Nov. 22, 2018, had received bomb-making training last year in Jogjakarta, Indonesia, according to police.
“While there, they learned to make Triacetone Triperoxide (TATP), a type of chemical used to produce huge-scale explosives and vehicle bombs. Both suspects also scouted several churches in Jogjakarta, Indonesia, in view of launching attacks,” Abdul Hamid said.
TATP is a white crystalline explosive of choice among IS bombers, and it was used in the Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka last month that killed hundreds of people, according to media reports.
The third suspect, an Indonesian identified as Nuruddin Alele (alias Fatir), was arrested in Selangor state on Tuesday as well, the Malaysian police chief said.
“The suspect was a member of the Islamic State’s cell whose other members were arrested on May 5 and 7, and was involved in planning killings and attacks on Christian, Hindu, and Buddhist houses of worship, as well as entertainment centers in the Klang Valley. His arrest was based on a public tip,” Abdul Hamid said.
“The suspect was exposed to IS ideology while serving a five-year jail sentence in Surabaya, Indonesia.”
All three were detained under Act 574 of the Malaysian Penal Code and would be investigated under the Security Offenses (Special Measures) Act 2012, according to the police chief.
Since the beginning of the year, about 33 suspected terrorists have been arrested in Malaysia. Of the number, 10 have been charged while nine were released, six were deported and one was referred to a foreign agency. Seven remain in custody but have not been charged.