Military officials in Thailand’s Deep South on Tuesday denied allegations from Malaysia’s police chief that a man arrested for suspected Islamic State (IS) links had been involved in smuggling weapons across the border between the two countries.
Muhammad Muzaffa Arieff Junaidi, a 27-year-old citizen of Malaysia and resident of the northern state of Kelantan, was arrested after having evaded capture by the authorities and crossing into the Thai Deep South two months ago, Malaysian Police Chief Khalid Abu Bakar announced over the weekend.
Muzaffa was one of six people with suspected IS links whose recent arrests in multiple Malaysian states were publicized by Khalid on Saturday.
“I can confirm that there is no evidence to prove that he [Muzaffa] smuggled weapons as claimed by Malaysian side,” Lt. Gen. Piyawat Nakwanich, the commander of the 4th Army that covers the insurgency-stricken Deep South, told BenarNews.
“Nevertheless we have measures to monitor the movement of illegal activities. In the past, we have cooperated with Malaysia in fighting illegal activities,” he said.
Earlier this month Piyawat said he had ordered his men to search for Muzaffa after the Malaysian police chief claimed the suspect had entered Thailand with weapons on March 22.
But on May 3, an immigrant police officer stationed at the Sungai Kolok border checkpoint in the southern Thai province of Narathiwat told BenarNews that Muzaffa had travelled in and out of Thailand “several times” and his last exit from the Thai side was recorded April 21.
On Tuesday, a Thai security official stationed in nearby Pattani province, said it was unlikely that arms had been smuggled to Malaysia from the Deep South conflict zone because separatist insurgents in the predominantly Muslim region were low on weapons and ammunition.
“It is highly impossible because the insurgents have no weapons, so they need to steal from the soldiers and police,” the official told BenarNews on condition of anonymity.
The source also rejected allegations made by Malaysia’s deputy prime minister last week, who cited intelligence reports in saying that recent terrorist attacks carried out in southern Thailand, Jakarta and in Marawi, in the southern Philippines, were all linked to the recent death of a Malaysian IS leader, Muhammad Wanndy Bin Mohamed Jedi.
“The Malay-Pattani people in the Deep South do not accept extremely violent ideology of IS and there are no conditions to join the IS,” he added.
The arrests of the six people believed to be involved in “Daesh group terrorist activities,” including Muzaffa, took place in the states of Kelantan, Selangor, Perak and Kedah from May 23 to 26, Khalid said in a statement issued Saturday. Daesh is another name for IS.
Muzaffa, a cattle breeder who was involved in “smuggling arms for IS members in Malaysia,” turned himself in to Malaysian police on May 23, in a town close to the border, Khalid said.
Muzaffa was involved with two other people who smuggled weapons from Thailand, the police chief said.
The other two, Nik Nazanil Izuan Daud and Mohammad Sabri Mat Zain, were arrested in police raids carried out on March 21 and 24. Both men have since been sentenced to five years in prison and five lashes, Khalid said without specifying the charges.
In the latest arrests of suspects with alleged IS links, besides Muzaffa the Malaysian police’s counter-terrorist special branch also caught five men aged between 23 and 54, Khalid said.
Two of the other suspects were brothers. One was a religious teacher, and the other was an online businessman. Both were taken into custody for allegedly supporting IS activities in Syria through two Malaysian members of Islamic State based in that country, Khalid said.
“Both suspects were also related to Muhammad Fudhail Omar who once instructed an IS militant in Sabah to lodge a lone wolf attack in Sandakan on August 4 last year,” Khalid said.
Malaysian officials have identified Fudhail as one of a handful of Malaysian IS figures who have replaced Wanndy since he was killed in an airstrike in Syria last month.
A fourth suspect, who was arrested on May 25, is a 54-year-old army retiree from Kulim in the state of Kedah.
“The man had channeled over 20,000 ringgit [U.S. $4,670] for IS militants in Syria in several transactions. A son of the man, named Afif Safwan Azuddin, is already with the IS group in Syria,” Khalid said.
The fifth and sixth suspects, both in their early thirties, were arrested on May 25 in Selangor and Kedah, respectively. One was working as a quality control officer at a private company the other man was unemployed.
According to Khalid, all six men were arrested under Malaysia’s Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Act 747) and being investigated for terrorism offenses.
Since 2013, Malaysian authorities have arrested 306 people suspected of having links to IS, of whom 66 have since been freed, according to latest figures from the government compiled by BenarNews.