Malaysian authorities detained more than 400 people, mostly foreign workers, as part of security preparations ahead of Southeast Asia’s biggest sporting event in mid-August, officials said Monday.
The police crackdown on Sunday in the capital Kuala Lumpur netted 409 people, Malaysia’s top anti-terror official, Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, told BenarNews.
Of those, 275 were released, 133 were detained on suspicion of immigration violations and one person was held under Malaysia’s Security Offenses (Special Measures) Act, Ayob said.
The foreign workers included citizens of Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Indonesia, Myanmar, Oman, Yemen, Uzbekistan, Thailand, Nigeria and Sri Lanka, Ayob said.
The men were taken to police headquarters, where their identities were screened against Interpol’s Foreign Terrorist Fighters list and Malaysia’s counter-terrorism database, Ayob said.
"The operation today is the first of many that we are going to conduct in conjunction with SEA Games,” Ayob said. “The main aim is to weed out the area from any threats, including terror elements.”
He said police operations would focus in the Klang Valley and in states where sports events will be hosted, including northern Kedah state and Penang, on the northwest coast.
Malaysian officials are on heightened alert and authorities have carried out preparations to beef up security during the 29th Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games), a multi-sport event involving 11 countries that is scheduled to take place from Aug. 19 to 31.
Last Friday, police launched drills and practiced commando raids in Kuala Lumpur to prepare for the games. Prime Minister Najib Razak and Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi witnessed the practice runs.
“We are not just talking about threats from Daesh, but also any form of threats from any entities that may jeopardize our nation and [the] SEA Games,” Police Inspector General Khalid Abu Bakar told reporters in June, using another name for the so-called Islamic State terrorist group.
Hundreds of officers sweep part of nation’s capital
During Sunday’s six-hour police operation, about 200 counter-terrorism officials raided businesses and homes in Masjid India, a neighbourhood known as Little India of Malaysia and a popular meeting place for foreigners.
Ayob said that since 2013, officials have arrested and deported 40 foreigners on suspicion of links to terror groups.
Anti-terror crackdowns during the past four years have also led to arrests of 310 Malaysians, according to government figures compiled by BenarNews. About 66 of those suspects have since been freed, officials said.
“Terrorism is an ongoing threat and Malaysia is putting all its effort to ensure safety and security of everyone in the country,” Ayob said.
During the raids, immigration officers also smashed a syndicate involved in forging residency documents and arrested a Pakistani national, Ayob said
Malaysia has about 32 million residents, including almost 1.8 million legally registered foreign workers and about 2 million undocumented immigrants who work in sectors ranging from agriculture to construction.
Since July 1, more than 5,500 foreigners – mostly Indonesians and Bangladeshis – have been entangled in a massive crackdown on illegal immigration in Malaysia, which has become a magnet for migrant workers from poorer neighboring nations.
On Monday, Southeast Asian lawmakers urged Malaysia stop its crackdown on foreign workers.
"This inhumane action must be halted," Emmi De Jesus, a Philippine lawmaker, told reporters in Kuala Lumpur after a four-day fact-finding visit.
In a statement released earlier, the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights quoted De Jesus as saying that because of the ongoing crackdown in Malaysia, many migrants were living in fear.
“Poor treatment by law enforcement, including indefinite detention in abysmal conditions, are urgent concerns as well,” she said.