About 30 men from other countries with suspected ties to terrorism groups have entered Malaysia since 2015 after being deported, mostly from Turkey, Malaysia’s top counter-terrorism official told BenarNews.
Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, chief of the counter-terrorism division of the police special branch, said about 10 of those men had been arrested and questioned by Malaysian authorities.
Those who were wanted in other countries or could have ties to militant groups were deported by Malaysian authorities, Ayob said.
“Suspicious characters from Arab nations, Indonesia and some other parts of the world have disembarked from Syria to Malaysia as it was their choice of destination,” he told BenarNews late Thursday.
Ayob said most of the men entered Malaysia from Turkey, the main entry point to Syria for foreign fighters seeking to join the Islamic State (IS) and other terrorist groups. Turkish law allows suspects captured trying to travel to Syria to choose where they will be deported.
“Most of the time they would pick Malaysia as it is one of the destinations with relaxed regulations and it welcomes visitors from any country,” he said.
In June 2016, Malaysia was a target of an IS attack – a grenade tossed at Movida nightclub near Kuala Lumpur injured eight people. Two Malaysian men pleaded guilty in the attack and were sentenced to 25 years each in prison.
Muhammad Wanndy Bin Mohamed Jedi, a prolific recruiter for IS in Malaysia before he was killed in a drone strike in Syria last month, claimed responsibility for the attack.
Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar on May 4 issued a challenge to foreigners trying to evade authorities in their native countries by entering Malaysia.
“We do not welcome people who are causing problems here. We do not welcome foreigners here who have caused any problem for our people and our country,” he said, commenting on the arrests of three Turkish citizens who have since been deported.
The three, a Turkish university board member, an international school principal in the state of Perak and a businessman, were deported on May 11 to Ankara for their alleged links to a group labeled by Turkey as the Fethullah Terrorist Organization.
International rights groups and organizations slammed Malaysia’s decision to forcibly send the three back to Turkey, saying their lives were in danger. The men’s relatives accused authorities of failing to notify them about their loved ones’ expulsion in the middle of the night.
Meanwhile, Ayob said Malaysian authorities have had a tough time dealing with repeated deportations from Turkey as authorities in Kuala Lumpur often are not informed.
“Even when the Turkish authority did [notify us], it would be too late. Sometimes police received notice on the day the person landed here,” he said. “It can often be last-minute.”
Azmi Hassan, a geo-political analyst at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia in Johor Bahru, told BenarNews that existing laws have enabled officials to arrest Malaysians and foreign nationals before terror acts can be committed.
“That’s the reason sharing of intelligence among nations is critical, so the E8 counter-terrorism division can have a heads-up pursuing unwanted guests here,” he said, referring to a police unit. “This shows how serious the authority is in circumventing these militant activities.”
Since 2014, at least 31 Malaysian IS militants have been killed in Syria or Iraq. Currently some 56 Malaysians are fighting in Syria, according to government figures obtained by BenarNews. Since 2013, Malaysian authorities have arrested 300 people suspected of having links to IS, of whom 66 have since been freed.
Hata Wahari in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.