Malaysia arrested five suspected militants in counter-terrorist raids since mid-October, including a former member of the South Asian extremist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and an ex-field operative of al-Qaeda, police said Wednesday.
A 50-year-old Egyptian who had worked as an executive with a Kuala Lumpur-based advertising company was arrested on Oct.13 outside the country’s capital, national police chief Mohamad Fuzi Harun said.
“The suspect was a member of the al-Qaeda militant group during his stay in Afghanistan from 1988 to 1993,” Fuzi said in a statement. “He also met with Osama bin Laden, the former leader of al-Qaeda.”
The suspect, who entered Malaysia with his wife in May this year, told investigators he had been arrested previously in Canada and Egypt for using fake travel documents, which he also used to enter Azerbaijan and Pakistan in the past, Fuzi said.
The Egyptian had also been imprisoned in his home country for terror activities, Fuzi said. He did not identify the suspect.
“The man was not cooperative with investigators at the moment,” a high-ranking government source told BenarNews.
Authorities have not seen evidence that the suspect had denounced his involvement with the global militant organization, the source said.
“We are afraid that Malaysia will become a terror organization’s base. Al-Qaeda, unlike the IS, is good at making long-term plans,” the source said, using the other acronym for Islamic State.
He cited the meeting of al-Qaeda terrorists who met in 1999 in Kuala Lumpur as they plotted the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks against the United States. The four coordinated terror attacks, which involved hijacked planes, killed almost 3,000 people and injured 6,000 others.
In 2000, the source said, high-level al-Qaeda members also met in Kuala Lumpur to plan the bombing on that year of the U.S. Navy ship USS Cole in Yemen, killing 17 American sailors and injuring 39 others. Some of the attendees in that meeting were hijackers of the plane that was flown into the Pentagon in the 9/11 attacks, he said.
That meeting was organized by Malaysian Yazid Sufaat, a former army captain, believed to be one of al-Qaeda's anthrax researchers. Malaysian authorities arrested Yazid in 2001, released him in 2008 and was rearrested in 2013 under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act for incitement of terrorist acts.
Apart from the Egyptian, the counter-terror agents also arrested a 31 year-old Pakistani with suspected links to the South Asian militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Fuzi said.
He said a 31-year-old man, who was only identified as a Middle Eastern, was arrested after he had allegedly posted Facebook comments threatening to kill a foreign ambassador.
Two Malaysians, aged 32 and 40, were also arrested, he said. All of the suspects were detained separately in Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Perak and the Borneo state Sabah between Oct. 13 and Oct. 26, the police chief said.
Investigators said the Malaysians were believed to have channeled funds to slain Malaysian IS recruiter Muhammad Wanndy Mohamed Jedi and another top Malaysian militant, Muhamad Fudhail Omar, who was believed killed in Syria last year, and also to the Abu Sayyaf, a group of militants operating in the southern Philippines.
Four of the suspects were detained under the Security Offenses (Special Measures) Act 2012 while the Pakistani was arrested on charges of violating the country’s Immigration Act.
Analyst: ‘It’s a residual effect’
A deradicalization expert told BenarNews that the presence of former al-Qaeda militants in nations outside of their home country was expected.
“It’s a residual effect of the phenomenon of militants who were active somewhere else, like Afghanistan,” said Ahmad el-Muhammady, a political science lecturer at the International Islamic University of Malaysia.
After their early activities, Ahmad said, militants would want to seek safe sanctuaries. Muslim-majority Malaysia, being an open country with friendly citizens, fits the bill, he said.
“Stringent security measures at the border and stronger intelligence cooperation with countries in the region and others, such as the Middle East and Europe, are needed to prevent the entry of foreign militants,” he said.
First arrest of Lashkar-e-Taiba in Malaysia, analyst says
A South Asian terrorism analyst told BenarNews the case involving the Pakistani could be unprecedented in Malaysia.
“I believe it’s the first such a case in Malaysia,” said Faran Jeffery, deputy director of the Islamic Theology of Counter Terrorism, a London-based think tank.
Lashkar-e-Taiba, which literally means the Army of the Righteous, is one of the largest and most active militant organizations in South Asia, operating mainly in Pakistan.
India blames the Pakistan-based LeT for several attacks on its soil, including the 2001 assault on the Indian Parliament that claimed 14 lives and the 2008 Mumbai attack.
LeT, formed in 1987 with funding from al-Qaeda, claims to be primarily fighting to “liberate” Muslims living in Indian Kashmir, where its cadres routinely target security forces. It has been designated by the Australian, U.S. and Indian governments as a terrorist organization.