Updated at 12:05 p.m. ET on 2017-10-18
Malaysian authorities on Tuesday said the three men detained last week for their alleged links with the Islamic State (IS) had planned to detonate a homemade bomb during a beer festival that event organizers said could have attracted thousands of people.
Inspector General of Police Mohamad Fuzi Harun told reporters that counter-terror officials had seized an improvised explosive device (IED) during a raid in northeastern Kelantan state on Oct. 10.
The IED, weighing about 1.3 pounds, contained ball bearings compacted in a PVC pipe and could have injured or killed people within a blast radius of 30 meters (98 feet), Fuzi said.
“The device could have caused many deaths if it had exploded at the beer festival,” he said.
Police arrested a former soldier, a building contractor and a 19-year-old student with alleged IS links during the raids, Fuzi said.
The Better Beer Festival scheduled from Oct. 6 to 7 at a shopping center in Kuala Lumpur was cancelled last month following objections from Muslim groups who claimed the event would encourage immorality and lead to criminal acts.
About 250 craft beers from dozens of breweries worldwide was scheduled to be showcased during the event that was expected to attract 6,000 people, according to the event’s organizers.
Fuzi said the suspects were also targeting other locations in the country, including Malaysia’s iconic Twin Towers, non-Muslim houses of worship and entertainment outlets in Kuala Lumpur, the nation’s capital, and Selangor state. He did not provide details.
During the past four years, Malaysian authorities have arrested about 350 people suspected of having links to terror groups, including IS. Sixty-six of those suspects have been freed, according to government figures compiled by BenarNews.
Prior to their arrests, the suspects tested two IEDs on Sept. 28 and another a few days later at an open field near the 19-year-old’s house, Fuzi said.
“One exploded, while another malfunctioned,” Fuzi said.
He said the 35-year-old former soldier collected money from sympathizers to finance the cost of building the IEDs, while the 25-year-old construction contractor had links to the Gagak Hitam (Black Crows) gang believed responsible for the grenade attack at a nightclub in Puchong, Selangor, near Kuala Lumpur, last year.
The grenade blast, the country’s first successful attack attributed to the IS, injured eight people.
Fuzi said the building contractor had links with Muhammad Wanndy Mohamad Jedi, a leading Southeast Asian recruiter for IS who was killed in a drone attack on April 29 in Syria, 10 months after he allegedly orchestrated the nightclub attack.
He said the latest arrests brought to nine the number of foiled bomb plots since 2013.
Developing into a ‘Dr. Azhari’
The teen’s ability to understand the intricate details in building the explosive had reminded Malaysian investigators of Dr. Azahari Husin, a bomb expert who was believed to be the technical mastermind behind the October 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.
Azahari, who received his bomb training in Afghanistan, was killed in 2005 during a police raid at his hideout in Kota Batu, Indonesia.
"Looking at how detailed was his drawing, it reminded the authorities of Dr. Azahari,” a source close to the investigation told BenarNews.
The 19-year-old, who attended a Form Six school in Pasir Puteh, Kelantan, spent hours learning how to make a bomb on YouTube, the source said.
"He is smart. He knew what to look for," said the source, referring to the teen’s online research skills.
The teen also spent time putting his ideas in writing and drawing the mechanics behind an IED.
"He is meticulous,” the source said. “The way the device was built showed that he knows the mechanics of the device well."
According to the source, the teen displayed weird behavior at the school, but his teachers failed to notice. He also refused to participate in some school activities.
"He drew things about war, he told his friends about wanting to jihad [holy war] and also refused to sing the national anthem and kept his index finger up as a sign of his obedient only to God," said the source.
If the teen’s activities were not uncovered, he would probably turn into a bomb expert, the source said.
"By the looks of it, give him two to three more years and he might become the next Dr. Azahari," the source said.
Malaysian anti-terror officers prepare to arrest the suspects inside a restaurant in Kelantan state, Oct. 10, 2017. [Courtesy of Malaysian Police]
Updated to add comments from a BenarNews source about the teen suspect.