Islamic State recruitment efforts have slowed in Malaysia since the death of IS militant Muhammad Wanndy Mohamad Jedi four months ago, but authorities remain vigilant, the country’s top anti-terror official said Tuesday.
Wanndy, a leading Southeast Asian recruiter for IS, was killed in a drone attack on April 29 in Syria, 10 months after he orchestrated an attack on a nightclub near Kuala Lumpur that injured eight patrons.
“Although the trend seems to have slowed down, it does not necessarily mean that they are not actively recruiting. Maybe they are active, but we are unable to trace their activities,” Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, chief of the police counter-terrorist special branch, told reporters in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday.
A day earlier, Inspector General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar said authorities had arrested several suspected Malaysian and foreign terrorists leading up to the 29th SEA Games hosted by Kuala Lumpur.
Ayob confirmed the arrests on Tuesday.
“It is true, but details will be revealed later,” he said.
Malaysian officials carried out at least four drills and three raids in the weeks leading up to the games, which got under way on Aug. 19 and last through the end of the month. More than 10,000 police personnel are on duty throughout the venues and at landmarks in Kuala Lumpur.
“The police will remain on guard and this is especially during the SEA Games,” Ayob added.
Since 2013, Malaysian authorities have arrested 310 people suspected of having IS links, of whom 66 have since been freed, according to government figures compiled by BenarNews.
A security source who requested anonymity said 32 Malaysian militants have been killed while fighting for IS in Syria and Iraq, while 55 others are believed to be fighting in those countries.
Malaysian police blamed Wanndy and his recruits for carrying out the first terrorist attack claimed by IS on home soil – a grenade blast that injured eight patrons at a Kuala Lumpur area nightclub in June 2016.
Two men, Wahyudin Karjono and Jonius Indie (alias Jahali), were each sentenced to 25 years in prison for tossing a grenade at the crowd at the Movida nightclub in Puchong, just south of Kuala Lumpur.
Wanndy took to social media to claim credit for the attack.
Government officials took notice of Wanndy two years ago when a video surfaced showing him participating in the execution of a Syrian man captured by IS forces.
He went on to become the most visible Malaysian living in IS’s self-proclaimed caliphate in Syria and Iraq. In March, the United States named Wanndy and Indonesian Bahrun Naim global terrorists.
On Tuesday, Ayob named Wan Mohd Aquil Wan Zainal Abidin, alias Akel Zainal, as a likely replacement for Wanndy as the main Malaysian recruiter for IS.
“This is why we will continue our surveillance and collection of intelligence to ensure any attempts to launch an attack could be stopped,” he added.
Zainal, 38, became famous in the 1990s as a drummer for a Malaysian rock band. More recently, he has been recruiting Malaysians to fight in Syria, and has at least 15,000 followers on Facebook, intelligence officials said.
Two other Malaysians who have participated in IS recruitment efforts are Mohd Rafi Udin and Abu Zahar.
Rafi, 51, was a taxi driver before appearing in an IS propaganda video in June 2016 alongside an Indonesian and a Filipino who beheaded prisoners.
Abu Zahar, 36, served in the army at a camp in the state of Sabah. He used Facebook to recruit potential IS members among Malaysian troops.