Malaysian authorities on Monday announced the arrests of two men suspected of links to the Islamic State (IS), including an Indonesian man who allegedly tried to stab Buddhist monks to retaliate for atrocities against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.
Police chief Mohamad Fuzi Harun said the country’s counter-terrorist unit arrested the suspects last month and on Jan. 17 in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor.
Also on Monday, a former factory supervisor who pleaded guilty to charges related to attempting to travel to Syria in February 2017 to join IS was sentenced to eight years in prison. Mohamad Awang, 42, who was charged on Nov. 13, 2017, could have faced a life sentence of 30 years.
“The most recent arrest involves a 23-year-old Indonesian construction worker who was planning to launch attacks on the Bukit Aman (national) police headquarters, as well as the Travers police station, to seize firearms from their armories,” Fuzi said. “The suspect had also planned to steal firearms from other police stations and army camps, to be used in attacks in Malaysia and Indonesia.”
In a statement released Monday night, Fuzi discussed the Indonesian suspect’s failed attempt to attack Buddhists.
“In November, the suspect went on a surveillance run in Jalan Pudu (Kuala Lumpur), armed with a knife, hoping to come across any Buddhist monks to kill in retaliation to the massacre of the Muslim Rohingya community in Myanmar,” Fuzi said.
At least 655,000 Rohingya fled from a brutal military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine state beginning in late August 2017 following attacks on government security posts by a Rohingya insurgent group. Overall, about 1 million Rohingya refugees are sheltering in Bangladesh, including those who fled earlier waves of violence.
Malaysia is one of the countries that has shown its support for Rohingya, a Muslim-minority group, and on many occasions, called for action to be taken.
Fuzi said the suspect had pledged his allegiance to a senior IS leader over WhatsApp and attempted to recruit other Indonesians to join the group.
“The suspect also had put up an IS flag at a construction site where he worked to prove that the terror group is still active in Malaysia despite defeats in Iraq and Syria,” he said without disclosing the location of the site.
On Dec. 23, a 25-year-old teacher at a private religious school near Kuala Lumpur was arrested after being released from prison 13 months earlier, Fuzi said.
“He was previously held under the Security Offenses (Special Measures) Act 2012 and had been released from an 18-month jail sentence on Nov 9, 2016,” he added.
Fuzi said the suspect became an active IS member and had planned attacks in Kuala Lumpur.
“The suspect was planning to launch attacks on entertainment centers in the Klang Valley, and had also planned to rob, kidnap or kill non-Muslims based on his understanding that non-Muslims in Malaysia are infidels and their blood is halal (permissible) to shed,” Fuzi said.
The suspect was promoting IS’s Salafi Jihadi ideology on Facebook to attract new members, according to Fuzi. He was found to be in contact with former IS members and the militant group Kumpulan Militan Malaysia.
Over the last four years, Malaysian authorities arrested 371 people for suspected links to terror groups, including 71 foreigners, according to government statistics.
Malaysia, home to about 32 million people including 19.5 million Muslims, has foiled at least nine IS-related bomb plots since 2013 including one that targeted the Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur in August 2017, police said. Militants were successful in June 2016, when an IS-linked grenade attack injured eight people at a nightclub in Puchong, near Kuala Lumpur.
Thirty-four Malaysian have been reported killed while fighting for IS in Iraq and Syria. Another 24 men, 12 women and 17 children are believed to be in Syria, but may have fled from cities where battles took place, according to Malaysian police.
Hata Wahari in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.