Malaysia’s government confirmed Tuesday that a citizen who was a top Islamic State recruiter died in a drone attack in Syria, but analysts warned that others could replace him including by helping IS build its ranks in the southern Philippines.
Malaysia was able to confirm the killing of IS fighter Muhammad Wanndy Mohamad Jedi after being notified by foreign intelligence sources, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi told reporters on Tuesday.
“The Malaysian government was informed by international intelligence of the death of Muhammad Wanndy in a drone attack,” the state-run Bernama news agency quoted Zahid as saying in Sydney, Australia.
He gave no details about which country had provided this information or who carried out the drone strike that killed Wanndy in Raqqa, Syria, on April 29.
Malaysia, Zahid said, “has no intention to make arrangements to bring back the body. The family of Muhammad Wanndy can arrange to do that with the authorities in Syria.”
After reports about Wanndy’s death first surfaced last week, Mohamad Fuzi Harun, the chief of the Malaysian police’s special branch, said it was working with international counterparts to find out what had happened to the IS militant and whether he was killed in Ma’dan, Syria, which is not far from Raqqa.
“There was an attack on him using drones in Syria, and we are trying to confirm his condition,” Fuzi said, according to a May 2 report in Malay Mail Online.
On Monday, Malaysian Police Chief Khalid Abu Bakar confirmed that the country’s most visible IS operative had been killed in the Raqqa area on April 29, but he did not say how Wanndy had died.
At least 31 IS fighters from Malaysia, including Wanndy, have been killed in Syria or Iraq since 2014, according to figures obtained by BenarNews from the Malaysian government.
‘One of the most dedicated terrorists’
Wanndy was reputed to be among IS’s leading recruiters of fighters from Southeast Asia.
Of the more than 250 people arrested in Malaysia for suspected IS ties between 2013 and 2016, at least a third were recruited by or linked with Wanndy, according to police statistics cited by Reuters.
“I don't think we can say for sure how many people were recruited by Wanndy, but for sure, his place can be taken by others, just as others can help with recruiting people for Syria or Mindanao,” Sidney Jones, the director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, a Jakarta think-tank, told BenarNews.
She was referring to the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, where various Muslim militant groups, including Abu Sayyaf, have declared allegiance to Islamic State. The region is also where IS activity has reportedly been growing as the group’s traditional strongholds in Iraq and Syria, such as Raqqa, have come under siege from anti-IS forces.
“Wanddy seemed to find new recruits via Facebook that he did not necessarily know personally, and anyone can do that with a good Internet connection,” Jones added.
Rohan Gunaratna, a Singapore-based expert on Southeast Asian extremist groups and a BenarNews columnist, described Wanndy as “one of the most dedicated terrorists.”
“Wanndy served with the external operations wing of IS. He mastered the art of recruiting Malaysians to mount attacks against Malaysia,” Gunaratna told BenarNews.
“Although he is likely to be replaced, Wanndy’s death diminishes the threat to Malaysia as he was a highly motivated operative with a vast network,” he added.
‘I will not turn away from my duty’
In Malaysia, police had accused Wanndy of orchestrating the first attack claimed by IS on home soil – a grenade attack that injured eight people at a Kuala Lumpur area nightclub in June 2016.
Two months ago, the U.S. Treasury Department declared Wanndy a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, alleging that he coordinated planning for terrorist plots and facilitated travel to the Middle East from Southeast Asia for young IS recruits. When BenarNews reported about the U.S. designation, Wanndy posted a link to the article on his Facebook page.
Officials from the press office at the U.S. Treasury in Washington did not respond to emailed requests from BenarNews seeking comment on Wanndy’s death.
Wanndy left Malaysia for Syria in January 2015, taking his family (pictured) along with him.
The following month, he made headlines back home when authorities in Malaysia identified him as one of two Malaysians who had taken part in the videotaped decapitation of a Syrian prisoner of war.
Wanndy apparently posted a 30-second video of the killing on his Facebook page on Feb. 22, 2015, and the other Malaysian man who helped make the video, Mohd Faris Anuar, was reported killed in Iraq in December of that year.
“At this moment I am in Raqqa, Syria, and I will not turn away from my duty to fight for the establishment of the Islamic State's Caliph leadership in preparing for the al-Mahdi’s rule,” Wanndy told BenarNews in an interview conducted through Facebook.
He was using an Arabic word that connotes a “divinely guided one” who will emerge to restore the purity of the Islamic faith and lead Muslims to victory against enemy forces before Judgment Day.
“The Islamic State (IS) is the movement which is making preparations for al-Mahdi rule towards the end of the world,” Wanndy added.