Concerns over militant group JI’s revival after suspect kills 2 Malaysian policemen

The al-Qaeda affiliate had been dormant in the country for a long time.
Iman Muttaqin Yusof and Nisha David
Kuala Lumpur
Concerns over militant group JI’s revival after suspect kills 2 Malaysian policemen Malaysian police chief Razarudin Husain (front right) inspects the area where a suspected member of the Jemaah Islamiyah militant group killed two policemen and injured a third before being killed at the Ulu Tiram Police Station in Johor Bahru, Johor state, Malaysia, May 17, 2024.
[S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]

UPDATED at 7:04 a.m. ET on 2024-05-18

Malaysian security analysts raised concerns Friday about the resurgence of the Jemaah Islamiyah militant group following a long dormancy, after a suspected member killed two constables in a pre-dawn attack at a police station in Johor.

Movements such as JI, a Muslim extremist group affiliated with al-Qaeda, tend to stay underground for extended periods as they wait for the “right moment” to strike and make a point – and now may be that time – intelligence experts said.

The place where the attack took place, the Ulu Tiram district in the southern state of Johor, resonates with security analyst Mohd. Mizan Mohammad Aslam.

“A religious school, now defunct, Madrasah Lukmanul Hakim located in Ulu Tiram, used to be a very important meeting point for terror group members … between 1996 and 1997. At the peak of its glory, the school was a breeding ground for militant ideologies and extremism,” the expert from the National Defense University of Malaysia told BenarNews.

“JI ideology [has been] there in Ulu Tiram all along. It has never gone. The followers, the people there, they continued to indoctrinate those living among them,” he added.

Such “ideologically violent movements will stay dormant, and when the time is right they will launch attacks,” Mizan said, adding that the suspected JI member may have chosen this time for the attack because some extremist politicians were spreading religious hatred in Muslim-majority, multi-religious Malaysia.

Even though the suspect’s affiliation with JI is uncertain, Munira Mustaffa, a counter-terrorism expert, said the attack would worry Malaysians.

“The attacker’s reported connection to a former JI member, an organization associated with significant terrorist activities in the past, raises public concerns,” Munira, from the Chasseur Group, a security consultancy, wrote in a newsletter.

“The incident at the Ulu Tiram police station has sparked fears of a possible resurgence of JI in Malaysia.”

Early-morning attack

According to Malaysia’s police chief, moments before Friday’s attack, a couple first created a diversion before the suspect arrived behind the police station.

A little before 2:45 a.m, this duo came to lodge a police report about an incident that allegedly took place two years ago, which “was not logical,” Police Inspector-General Razarudin Husain said. It seems unlikely anyone would come at a time like that to report something that happened that long ago.

While two police officers were taking a statement from the couple, the suspect arrived, armed with a machete-like weapon called a “parang,” and began to cause a commotion. 

One of the two officers who were taking a statement from the couple went out back to see what was happening and the suspect slashed him in the neck, killing him and taking his gun.

“Following this, two mobile patrol vehicle policemen, having just completed their patrol, returned to the police station and engaged in a gunfight with the suspect,” Razarudin said.

“One of our officers sustained a gunshot wound to his cheek, with the bullet penetrating his head [and killing him], while another was shot in the shoulder and waist,” Razarudin said. The injured policeman is in the hospital.

Suspecting their possible involvement, police arrested the couple as well, in addition to the suspect’s family members.

“After initial investigations, it appears that the 34-year-old suspect is a member of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI),” the nation’s police chief told the media, as he withheld the suspect’s identity.

“His father is also a member of JI. As a result, we have detained five family members of the suspect aged between 19 and 62 to assist in the investigation.”

Upon checking the attacker’s home in Ulu Tiram, a suburb about 17 miles from the country’s border with Singapore, the police found parts of scripture from the Islamic holy book the Quran pasted on the walls.

Razarudin suggested that the suspect’s motive could have been gaining access to the police station’s armory to steal weapons for his alleged cause. JI’s professed cause is to set up a pan-Islamic state in Southeast Asia governed by Islamic law.

On Saturday, Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution provided reporters with information to correct the age of the main suspect, saying he was 21 years old and not 34.

Bullet casings marked with numbers by the police are seen at the site of an attack at the Ulu Tiram Police Station in Johor Bahru, Johor state, Malaysia, May 17, 2024. [S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]

According to another analyst, a potential religion-related reason could shed light on the attack’s timing – dissatisfaction that a secular government is in power.

“It is one of many things that could trigger the extreme action. The sentiment is backdated to 2018,” Dina Zaman, co-founder of Iman Research, a think-tank, told BenarNews.

She was referring to when a coalition government that included a secular alliance, Pakatan Harapan, came to power. Pakatan currently heads another coalition government. 

Back then, “they were saying having Pakatan Harapan as a government is not good for the country,” Dina said.

“They said, they are going to let the Pakatan government enjoy their day but one day, the government will know that they are there.”

The last time JI was linked to an attack or incident in Malaysia was in 2001, when an associate group, the homegrown radical Islamic Kumpulan Mujahidin Malaysia (KMM), attacked a police station in the state of Kedah to steal firearms.

Southeast Asian network

Jemaah Islamiyah, which is also banned in Indonesia and Singapore and designated a terror group by Washington, is widely blamed for attacks in the Philippines and Indonesia, including the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, and the Jakarta hotel bombing in 2009 that claimed 12 people’s lives.

In fact, the 2009 twin-suicide bomb attacks on two hotels in Jakarta were masterminded by a key Malaysian JI leader, Noordin Mohammed Top. He was killed later that year in a standoff with police in the Indonesian city of Solo.

JI in Malaysia has been mostly dormant since then, with a few suspected members arrested in the last decade.

The wreckage of the Sari night club and surrounding buildings, which were damaged in a bomb attack, are seen in this aerial view Oct. 15, 2002 in Kuta, Bali, Indonesia. [Achmad Ibrahim/AP file photo]

However, in neighboring Indonesia, where JI is based, while there have been no major attacks in recent years, counterterror police say they have arrested numerous suspected members over the years.

They have also claimed they have thwarted militant strikes by these suspects with many of these detentions.

In 2019, Indonesian authorities arrested the leader of JI, Para Wijayanto, at a hotel outside Jakarta. Blamed for Indonesia’s deadliest terrorist attack, the Bali bombings of 2002, Para had been on the Indonesian government's most-wanted list since 2003.

Meanwhile, Chasseur Group’s Munira said Friday’s attack could have been inspired by similar attacks in Indonesia.

“Given the pattern of police station attacks in Indonesia previously, it is possible the attacker attempted to imitate those methods,” she said.

Ideology ‘still alive’

Aizat Shamsuddin, who has worked closely with former militants, said the credo of groups like JI stays with those who used to be members.

“We have learned that there is a risk that these groups will regroup even after some of their members or leaders are arrested and captured,” Aizat, the founder of a campaigner group, Initiative to Promote Tolerance and Prevent Violence, told BenarNews.

“What we have witnessed today is that the ideology among the [former] members is still alive.”

This report has been updated with new information about the age of the main suspect.


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Iman Muttaqin Yusof
May 18, 2024 05:05 AM

parts of scripture from the Islamic holy book the Quran pasted at the wall.--> semak betul2 kenyataan nie... adakah betul2 dari alquran atau ayat daripada ajaran sesat seperti ayat alquran lain.