Malaysian authorities said Tuesday that they had foiled a plot to launch a terror attack during the Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur last month by arresting 19 suspected terrorists, including two alleged Islamic State commanders in southern Iraq.
Inspector-General Mohamad Fuzi Harun made the announcement in a news release during his first day as Malaysia’s national police chief.
Fuzi said counter-terrorism officers arrested 11 foreigners and eight Malaysians as they raided the hideouts of terror suspects in the states of Selangor, Johor, Kelantan and in the capital Kuala Lumpur from July 4 to Aug. 30.
Eight of the suspects – two Philippine nationals and six Malaysians who are suspected to be members of the southern Philippine-based Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) – were arrested in Kuala Lumpur on Aug. 30.
He said the raids were launched “to thwart a terror plot” to disrupt the games and the country’s 60th Independence Day celebration.
Among the arrested suspects was ASG leader Hajar Abdul Mubin, 25, (alias Abu Asrie), Fuzi said, describing him as the plot’s mastermind.
Fuzi said Hajar had been involved in previous kidnappings and clashes with soldiers in the southern Philippines before he sneaked into Sandakan town in Malaysia and proceeded to Kuala Lumpur in December 2015.
“Intelligence shows the suspect planned to launch attacks during the SEA Games closing ceremony in National Stadium (Bukit Jalil) and during the National Day celebration,” he said.
Eleven nations and thousands of athletes participated in the 29th edition of the SEA Games, from Aug. 19 to 30.
Fuzi’s statement did not provide details on the terror plot and did not mention if any weapons or explosives were recovered.
The police chief also said two Iraqi siblings were arrested on Aug. 11 at Gombak, a town in the state of Selangor. Fuzi did not identify the two Iraqis except that they were 41 and 63 years old, and released no details on their alleged terrorist activities.
“Both were working as technicians and were arrested for being suspected commanders of a terrorist organization in southern Iraq,” Fuzi said, adding that all suspects were being held under an anti-terror law allowing the government to detain them for up to 28 days without trial.
The raids also led to the arrest of a 25-year-old Bangladeshi temporary teacher at a religious school in the state of Selangor on July 4.
“He is a suspected member of Jamat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh. The suspect who is wanted by Bangladesh police entered Malaysia on Sept. 4, 2016, under the pretext of furthering his studies in a local public university,” Fuzi said.
Among the foreigners arrested in separate raids were two Maldives nationals, two Indonesians, a Palestinian and a third Iraqi.
Since 2013, Malaysian authorities have arrested 329 people suspected of having links to the Islamic State, of whom 66 have since been freed, according to government figures compiled by BenarNews.
Meanwhile, the Malaysian Prime Minister’s office on Tuesday announced the appointment of former police chief Khalid Abu Bakar as special envoy for combatting terrorism and human trafficking, and chairman of Prasarana Malaysia Berhad, the government-owned public transport operator.