Malaysian authorities say they have arrested 16 men on suspicion of links to terrorism, including 14 whom officials named as members of a terror cell led by a citizen who allegedly has been fighting for Islamic State (IS) in Syria since last year.
The suspects, 15 Malaysians and one foreigner, were captured during a series of raids conducted by the Malaysian police’s counter-terrorist branch from Sept. 21 to Oct. 6 in the states of Selangor, Kelantan, Perak, Kedah, Penang and Sabah, Inspector General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar said in a statement issued on Sunday.
Fourteen of the suspects are members of a new group, Gagak Hitam (Black Crows), which is headed by Muhammad Wanndy Mohamad Jedi (also known as Abu Hamzah al-Fateh), according to Khalid.
Police allege that Wanndy ordered a grenade attack at a nightclub in Puching, on the outskirts on Kuala Lumpur, that injured eight people on June 28 in the first attack claimed by IS on Malaysian soil.
The 14 are suspected of “channeling funds to him,” Khalid said, referring to Wanndy.
Among the other two suspects, a 20-year-old student at a public university in Johor was arrested at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Sept. 22, Khalid said. The student had traveled to Istanbul on Sept. 7 and was detained by Turkish authorities the next day after he allegedly planned to travel to Syria to join a terrorist group in that country.
Another suspect, a 32-year-old man from North Africa, was arrested in Selangor on Sept. 25 and identified as a member of Jahbat Al Nusra, an Islamic terror group in Syria, Khalid said. The North African had traveled to Malaysia several times since May this year and is suspected of having a role in a syndicate forging travel documents.
Malaysian officials identified those arrested as five businessmen, four technicians, a public school counseling teacher, a bank employee, an executive manager, an antique collector and a student. Two others are unemployed. All 16 suspects are being investigated under the Security Offenses (Special Measures) Act of 2012 (SOSMA), Khalid said.
Reacting to news of the arrests, Malaysia’s Ministry of Education (MOE) on Monday issued a stern warning to any teacher, support staff under the ministry or student involved in militant activities.
“An action without compromise will be taken if proven [that] any teacher or staff support under the MOE is involved with these activities, including activities such as spreading slander through various social media, and activities that patterned against the ruling government,” Director General of Education Khair Mohamad Yusof said in a statement.
Cooperation necessary: Expert
Rohan Gunaratna, director of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, told BenarNews that cooperation between police and different social groups is necessary to neutralize an emerging threat from IS in Malaysia and elsewhere in Southeast Asia.
“To counter the current threats that are emerging in Malaysia, the government should bring religious authorities, law enforcement and educators together. While education authorities should encourage modesty, religious authorities must fend off extremist propaganda,” said Gunaratna, a columnist for BenarNews.
For many months, Malaysian officials have warned that their country faces a threat from IS recruiting local youths to its ranks via social media, and from Malaysian IS veterans returning from combat tours in the Middle East plotting terror attacks on home soil
Since 2013, as many as 90 Malaysians have joined the extremist group abroad, of which 24 are believed to have been killed in battle and eight were arrested and charged with terror-related offenses after returning home from the Middle East, Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, the head of the of the Malaysian police’s counter-terrorist branch, told BenarNews last month.
Those who are still with IS in that region consist of 32 men, 10 women and 16 are children.
Since 2013, authorities have arrested at least 230 suspected IS members and have charged at least 75 suspects linked to the group in court.