Malaysian police said Monday they had foiled an alleged plot by the Islamic State (IS) terror group to attack places of worship in the capital Kuala Lumpur, by arresting two suspects last month.
The pair were among seven suspected militants taken into custody through a series of raids in launched between Nov. 19 and 28 in Kelantan, Selangor, Sabah and Kedah states that also netted alleged members of the Philippine-based Abu Sayyaf militant group, officials said. In all, police arrested five Malaysians and two Philippine citizens.
Police Inspector-General Mohamad Fuzi Harun said one of the two suspects apprehended in Kelantan had been in contact with Akel Zainal, a Malaysian citizen fighting alongside IS in Syria.
“The 28-year-old who worked as a honey seller was arrested in Kelantan on Nov.19. He received instruction from Akel to launch an attack in Malaysia,” Fuzi said in a statement released on Monday that did not name the suspects.
Another suspect, a 35-year-old driving school instructor, had also received instructions from Akel, according to Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, the director of the police’s counter-terrorist special branch. He said the duo planned to strike early next year.
“They were planning to launch attacks at places of worships in Kuala Lumpur and police stations in Kelantan. Their targets were unknown as they were still in planning stages,” Ayob told BenarNews.
“January is just around the corner. We do not want to take any risks, so we rounded them up as a proactive measure. For us, we should not take any risks,” Ayob said.
An initial investigation showed that the two had been communicating with Akel since early this year, according to Ayob.
The delay in tracking them resulted from Akel adopting a method used by Malaysian terrorist Muhammad Wanndy Mohamed Jedi to recruit new members before Wanndy was killed in Syria last year. In October, Ayob told reporters that Akel took the lead in efforts to recruit Malaysians to Syria following Wanndy’s death in Raqqa in April 2017.
Akel adopted Wanndy’s method of recruiting individuals to serve a specific role and only communicate with the mastermind of an attack, according to investigators.
“One person would be tasked to do one thing, the other to work on different things. It was a method to make sure that each has no clue of the other person’s identity. It took us some time to connect the dots. It was a method to slow us down,” Ayob said.
Wanndy used this method to successfully orchestrate an attack in Malaysia in 2016 where a grenade tossed at a nightclub near Kuala Lumpur injured eight people, the police official said.
Among the latest arrests, a suspect taken into custody on Nov. 20 was identified by police as a 52-year-old Malaysian petroleum engineer who allegedly funneled 14,000 ringgit (U.S. $3,350) to Wanndy between 2016 and 2017 to fund terror activities.
A 26-year-old van driver in Kedah was arrested for allegedly providing funds to a pro-IS terrorist network, Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), which was linked to attacks on police stations in Central Java in April 2017. JAD was also blamed by Indonesian police for suicide bombings in the city of Surabaya in May 2018, where three churches were attacked by a radicalized Muslim family.
Police also arrested an alleged member of Abu Sayyaf on Nov. 21 in the Borneo state of Sabah. Officials identified the 45-year-old farmer as a Philippine citizen.
In addition, on Nov. 28 police arrested a 48-year-old Filipino in Tenom and his Malaysian wife for not disclosing knowledge of the presence of Abu Sayyaf members in the state.
Fuzi said the suspects were being investigated under the Security Offenses (Special Measures) Act. Since January, police in Malaysia have arrested 452 individuals linked to alleged terror activities.