The cousin of Isnilon Hapilon, the late “emir” of Islamic State’s Southeast Asian branch, and a leader of Indonesian terror group Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) were among 20 suspected militants arrested in raids across Malaysia this month, authorities said Friday.
One of the suspects was a 50-year-old Filipino who was picked up in Kuala Lumpur on Dec. 6, Police Inspector-General Mohamad Fuzi Harun said in a statement.
“I can confirm the Filipino suspect arrested is the cousin of Isnilon,” a source with Malaysian intelligence told BenarNews on condition of anonymity.
Hapilon, an Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) militant leader who had pledged allegiance to Islamic State, helped lead an IS-backed siege of the southern Philippine city of Marawi. He was killed in October during the final days of a battle there with Filipino government forces that lasted five months, the Philippine military said.
“The suspect was recruiting his fellow countrymen in the Kepong area to join the Abu Sayyaf Group in the southern Philippines,” Fuzi said of the 50-year-old Filipino in custody.
In announcing the arrests, Fuzi did not name the suspects but identified them as seven Malaysians, seven Filipinos, five Indonesians, and a North African. He said they were arrested in the states of Kuala Lumpur, Sabah, Johor and Selangor between Nov. 30 and Dec. 15.
The police chief identified the suspected JAD leader as a 24-year-old mastermind of a July plot to attack a café popular with tourists and locals in Bandung, Indonesia, but which failed when a homemade bomb blew up prematurely. The suspect was arrested in the southern Malaysian state of Johor on Nov. 30, according to Fuzi.
“The suspect was involved in the bombing incident in Bandung in July before sneaking into Malaysia to avoid being arrested by Indonesian authorities,” Fuzi said, adding that the man in custody had been collecting funds while planning to travel to Syria to join Islamic State (IS).
JAD is the militant group that carried out a terrorist attack in central Jakarta in January 2016, in which eight people, including four perpetrators, were killed, Indonesian police said. The attack was the first successful one claimed in Southeast Asia by IS.
Former teacher arrested
Four other Indonesians between the ages of 31 and 38 were picked up in the coastal town of Sandakan, Sabah, on Dec. 4, according to police.
“The four entered Malaysia illegally from Tarakan and Nunukan, Indonesia, and were planning to sneak into the southern Philippines to join terror groups there,” Fuzi said.
Among the other suspects swept up in the raids, police identified one of the Malaysians as a 46-year-old former teacher in Kuching, Sarawak, who was arrested at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) on Dec. 1.
“The suspect is part of the Whatsapp group The Rise of Jundullah, which was involved in the planning for an attack on the 2017 Better Beer Festival. Three of the terror cell members were arrested earlier in October in Pasir Puteh, Kelantan,” Fuzi said adding the suspect was planning to head to the southern Philippines to join a terror cell.
The festival was canceled after authorities denied the organizer a permit for it. Police said the festival was banned over concerns of a possible militant attack.
On Dec. 10, six Malaysians and five Filipinos between the ages of 16 and 47 were arrested in Sandakan.
“All of the suspects were planning to join terror groups in the southern Philippines,” Fuzi said.
On the same day, another Filipino was arrested in Johor for alleged involvement in terror activities. “The suspect is blacklisted by Philippines authorities,” Fuzi said.
Later, a 31-year-old North African linked to IS was arrested at KLIA on Dec. 15, after he snuck into Malaysia from an unnamed neighboring country earlier in the month. Police did not specify his nationality.
“The suspect had been arrested by Turkish authorities in September 2016 for his involvement with IS in Iraq and Syria,” Fuzi said, citing intelligence shared by international agencies.
Over the last four years, Malaysian authorities have arrested about 370 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.
In addition, 34 Malaysian have been reported killed while fighting for IS in Iraq and Syria. Meanwhile 24 men, 12 women and 17 children are believed to be in Syria, but may have fled from cities where battles took place. Officials had said the Malaysians might have sought refuge in camps on the borders with Jordan and Turkey.
Malaysia, whose population is about 32 million, including 19.5 million Muslims, has foiled nine IS-related bomb plots since 2013, security officials said. One IS-linked attack at a nightclub near Kuala Lumpur injured eight people in June 2016.