Malaysian Police Hunt 4 IS Suspects, Including a Thai

N. Nantha and Zam Yusa
Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
180416-MY-IS-620.jpg Malaysian military and police personnel patrol outside a shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur, Jan. 25, 2016.

Updated at 11:11 a.m. ET on 2018-04-18

A Thai national is among four suspected Islamic State (IS) cell members being pursued by authorities in Malaysia for alleged terrorist activities, including a bomb plot targeting non-Muslim worship sites, the nation’s police chief said Monday.

The four suspects managed to escape a police raid while six others were arrested during law-enforcement operations between Feb. 27 and March 1 in the southern state of Johor, Police Inspector-General Mohamad Fuzi Harun said in a statement.

“We believe the four individuals are remnants of the [IS] cell and are still at large and dangerous,” Fuzi said.

Police identified the suspects as Muhamad Faizal Muhamad Hanafi, 28; and his father, Muhamad Hanafi, 51, who were from the northern state of Kelantan; Nor Farkhan Mohd Isaa of Johor; and Thai national Awae Wae-Eya, 37, who is believed to be from Narathiwat, a province in Thailand’s insurgency-wracked Deep South.

The four men are believed to be hiding in southern Thailand, an intelligence source told BenarNews on condition of anonymity.

Fuzi issued the statement three weeks after Malaysia filed charges against two suspected IS members in the alleged plot to bomb non-Muslim sites in southern Johor state. Another suspected militant also was charged in Johor for keeping pro-IS videos on his mobile phone and tablet, officials said.

The three were believed to be part of a terrorist cell and were arrested by Malaysian counter-terror officials in separate raids since the end of February in the state, Fuzi said in a statement on March 26. Authorities did not name the places of worship in the charge sheet.

An investigation revealed that Awae had been to the Malaysian state of Pahang in 2016, but it was not clear why he visited the area, officials said.

Fuzi warned that those withholding information or harboring the suspected terrorists could also face charges under Malaysia’s Penal Code.

Awae Wae-Eya [Courtesy of Royal Malaysia Police]
Awae Wae-Eya [Courtesy of Royal Malaysia Police]

Expert: IS sympathizers live in Thai Deep South

In February, Malaysian police expressed suspicion that some of the pro-IS militants detained in Kelantan state had received bomb-making training in several countries, including next-door in Thailand.

The Thai government has long denied the existence of IS militants on its soil or the smuggling of firearms across its southern border into Malaysia to support terror activities.

But Ahmad El-Muhammady, a counter-terrorism analyst from the International Islamic University of Malaysia, said he did not find it surprising that an IS militant would come from Thailand’s predominantly Muslim far south, where a separatist insurgency has lasted decades.

“I can confirm that such groups of sympathizers exist in the Deep South, based on my conversations with people there and field visits to the southern Thai region, as well as from research on social media,” El-Muhammady told BenarNews.

“They themselves told me that while their struggle in southern Thailand was a domestic issue that does not warrant a foreign militant group’s involvement, they do sympathize with the IS group’s struggle,” he said. “They told me that their and IS’ struggles were based on the same thing; that is to create a Daulah Islamiyah or Islamic state.”

El-Muhammady, who serves as a counter-violent extremism adviser to the Malaysian police and prison authorities, said he had not seen evidence of a network of IS operatives among the Thais so far.

“But as the Malaysian police is looking for a named Thai operative, then I dare say the sympathy in Thailand … has translated into dangerous operations by an operative or operatives,” he added. “The Thai government can no longer deny the existence of IS operatives on their soil.”

“They have to start curbing this problem,” he said, “before it blows from just several individual IS operatives into a full-fledged network that threatens national and regional security.”

Meanwhile on Monday, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak told a defense forum that 389 people had been arrested in Malaysia since 2013 on suspicion of IS-linked activities.

He said 34 of the 95 Malaysians known to have joined IS groups in Syria and Iraq had been killed in conflict zones. Nine of those were suicide bombers, he said.

Updated to add location of law-enforcement raids.


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