The Malaysian police chief on Sunday announced the arrests last month of nine suspects linked to an African-based terror group, including five alleged members of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood who planned to launch large-scale attacks in several countries.
Police Inspector-General Mohamad Fuzi Harun issued a statement announcing the arrests of two Malaysians, six Egyptians and one Tunisian national between Feb. 2 and 9 in the Klang Valley and the east Malaysian state of Sarawak. The Egyptians and the Tunisian have been deported.
The Federal Police’s Counter Terrorism division made the arrests after receiving information from foreign intelligence agencies that several terrorist fighters were planning the attacks. The suspects are described as members of the Ansar-al Sharia in Tunisia, which operates in North Africa and is classified as a terror group by the United Nations because of its coalition with al-Qaeda, according to Fuzi.
“Five Egyptian nationals who were arrested admitted to being members of the Muslim Brotherhood and had facilitated the accommodation, transport, employment and purchased flight tickets for two members (the remaining Egyptian and the Tunisian) of the Ansar-al Sharia group,” Fuzi said.
“This operation is a follow-up to a counter-terrorism operation conducted in April and November last year where two Egyptian members of the Muslim Brotherhood were arrested and deported due to their involvement in the Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda terror groups,” he said.
Fuzi said the arrests began in Sarawak, on Feb. 2, when an Egyptian along with a Malaysian man and woman were taken into custody.
“The trio, aged between 20 and 54, were nabbed for hiding information regarding the presence of Ansar al-Sharia operatives who were in transit in Malaysia, providing shelter for them and acting as facilitators in providing them with accommodation, jobs and flight tickets,” he said.
That same day, Fuzi said a 42-year-old Egyptian working as a religious school teacher was arrested in Kuala Lumpur. The suspect admitted to being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and provided accommodation to two members of the Ansar al-Sharia who infiltrated Malaysia in October 2018.
A 24-year-old Egyptian national who was a student at a university in the Klang Valley was arrested in Kuala Lumpur on Feb. 2 as well. The man, who admitted to being a Muslim Brotherhood member, confessed to having bought flight tickets for two Ansar al-Sharia members who came into Malaysia in October 2018, according to Fuzi.
A 28-year-old Egyptian student who acted as a facilitator to the Ansar al-Sharia group members and assisted Essam Marzouk Al Hafez, an al-Qaeda operative who has since been deported to his home country, was arrested Feb. 2 in Selangor, the police chief said.
Two days later, a Tunisian and an Egyptian, ages 21 and 22, were arrested in Kuala Lumpur. They are suspected members of the Ansar al-Sharia group and had been arrested in 2016 for trying to sneak into a Central African country, Fuzi said.
“Both suspects entered Malaysia using fake Syrian passports, with the intent of using Malaysia as a transit point before entering a third country to launch attacks,” he said.
Fuzi said a 50-year-old Malaysian who works as an Arab language teacher was arrested Feb. 9 in Selangor. The suspect is an alleged member of the Muslim Brotherhood who provided accommodation to two Ansar al-Sharia members last year.
In December, Fuzi announced police foiled an alleged plot by IS to attack places of worship in the capital Kuala Lumpur with the arrest of two suspects. The pair were among seven suspected militants – five Malaysians and two Filipinos – taken into custody through a series of raids between Nov. 19 and 28 in Kelantan, Selangor, Sabah and Kedah states.
Fuzi said investigators had determined that the foreign suspects arrested in February were trying to make Malaysia a safe haven transit point and logistics base. They had allegedly entered the country using legitimate and fake documents. In some cases, they married locals to obtain spouse visas, and exploited education facilities or conducted businesses.
“The infiltration of foreign terrorist fighters into this country has to be taken seriously, especially following the defeat of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq,” Fuzi said. “They could use this country as a base to attack other countries or launch attacks within the country.”
“Since the presence of the foreigners could endanger national security, all the (foreign) suspects were deported to their home countries, according to provisions under the immigration law, and marked for being blacklisted from entering Malaysia for life,” Fuzi said.
Counter terrorism analyst Ahmad el-Muhammady told BenarNews that the arrests of Muslim Brotherhood members reflected the cooperation between the Malaysian security agencies and friendly foreign intelligence services.
“The case might send a strong message to the radical Muslim Brotherhood group that Malaysia is no longer safe for them to operate freely,” said Ahmad, a lecturer at the International Islamic University of Malaysia.
Meanwhile, Lawyers for Liberty executive director Latheefa Koya previously said that deported suspects could be executed by the military regime in Egypt.
In a series of tweets on Thursday, she said the suspects were members of jailed former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s party and face persecution for their political beliefs.
Zam Yusa in Sabah, Malaysia, contributed to this report.