An Islamic State (IS) fighter identified by authorities and experts as the leader of Malaysian militants in Syria was killed in an airstrike in Raqqa last month, a senior police official told BenarNews on Thursday.
Muhammad Fudhail Omar, 27, a former non-governmental organization worker, was killed in a strike by Syrian forces, Malaysian anti-terrorism police chief Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay said.
“Yes, I can confirm. That’s the latest information we have received,” Ayob Khan told BenarNews on Thursday.
Ayob did not release details about Fudhail’s death, including the date of the airstrike, or how Malaysian police received confirmation.
Fudhail joined IS in October 2014 and had been active on Twitter using the account @fudhailO – but stopped tweeting in August 2016, officials said.
His name appeared in charge sheets against suspected IS members in Malaysia. Those sheets stated the suspects received orders from Fudhail to carry out terror activities, which were not specified.
In May, Inspector General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar linked Fudhail to an attack in Sandakan, Malaysia, when he announced the arrests of two brothers.
“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 Aug. 4 last year,” Khalid said at the time.
That same month, Ayob and Rohan Gunaratna, a Singapore-based expert on Southeast and South Asian extremist groups, told BenarNews that Fudhail was among a group of four militants who could replace top Malaysian IS recruiter Muhammad Wanndy Mohamed Jedi who was killed in a drone attack on April 29 in Syria.
“As Wanndy was highly dedicated and skilled, he will be replaced not by any one person but several others – they include Akel Zainal, Rafi Udin, Abu Zahar, and Mohamed Fudhail and a few others who will follow the same fate as Wanndy,” Gunaratna told BenarNews at the time.
“The impact (of Wanndy’s death) is much less as it was not only Wanndy who was recruiting,” Ayob also told BenarNews. “Akel, Abu Zahar, Rafi Udin and Fudhail were also recruiting, but not as openly and aggressively like Wanndy.”
Fudhail, who arrived in Syria on May 2, 2014, was known as Abu Qutaibah among IS fighters, Ayob said then. He joined militant group Ajnad al-Sham with former Malaysian preacher Lotfi Ariffin, a former member of the faith-based Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, but left for IS when Lotfi was killed in September 2014.
Akel Zainal, whose real name is Wan Mohd Aquil Wan Zainal Abidin, 38, became famous in the 1990s as a drummer for a popular Malaysian rock band. More recently, he has been recruiting Malaysians to fight in Syria and has at least 15,000 followers on Facebook, intelligence officials said.
Malaysian Mohd Rafi Udin (alias Abu Awn Al-Malizi), 51, was a taxi driver before appearing in an IS propaganda video in June 2016 alongside an Indonesian and Filipino where they beheaded prisoners.
Abu Zahar (alias Zahar Abdullah), 36, served in the army at a camp in the state of Sabah. He used Facebook to recruit potential IS members among Malaysian troops.
Since 2013, Malaysian authorities have arrested 310 people suspected of having IS links, of whom 66 have since been freed, according to government figures compiled by BenarNews.
A security source who requested anonymity said 32 Malaysian militants have been killed while fighting for IS in Syria and Iraq, while 55 others are believed to be fighting in those countries.