Malaysian authorities on Thursday announced the arrests of three suspected Islamic State (IS) militants, including a man linked to two other terrorist organizations, in separate raids last weekend.
Police Inspector-General Mohamad Fuzi Harun said the suspects, all Malaysians, were picked up by counter-terrorism officials in raids in three states between Sept. 8 and 10.
The announcement occurred two days after Prime Minister Najib Razak and U.S. President Donald Trump pledged to strengthen bilateral cooperation to combat growing terrorist threats around the region during Najib’s visit to Washington.
“The first suspect, a 21-year-old man, was detained in Bagan Serai, Perak on Sept 8. The unemployed suspect swore allegiance to IS at the beginning of this year. He has also established connections with al-Qaeda and the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG),” Fuzi, Malaysia’s new police chief, said in a statement Thursday.
The suspect, Fuzi said, confessed to receiving guidance from Mahmud Ahmad, who allegedly is a conduit for IS funds coming from the Middle East, and a Saudi Arabian bomb expert to produce improvised explosive devices (IED) on a large scale. Police did not release the names of any of the suspects.
Mahmud was actively involved in the siege of Marawi city in the southern Philippines together with ASG commander Isnilon Hapilon, who is the recognized IS regional leader.
“From the teachings, the suspect tried to make the IED bombs three times. He has also received orders from a senior Malaysian IS militant in Syria to buy a pistol, M-16 rifle, AK-47 and a hand grenade from a neighboring country to launch attacks on non-Muslim places of worship,” Fuzi said.
“We seized bomb-making chemicals at the suspect’s house during the raid,” he added.
Two other suspects, a 38-year-old local drink (cendol) seller and a 41-year-old bus driver were arrested in the state of Melaka and Selangor, both on Sept. 10.
“The suspect was active in producing and distributing IS flags to promote the terror groups ideology,” Fuzi said of the drink seller. He allegedly planned to join an IS faction in the southern Philippines or a militant group in Rakhine, Myanmar.
The third suspect who was arrested in the town of Petaling Jaya, Selangor, allegedly planned to join IS in Syria by the end of this year.
All three suspects were being held under the Security Offenses (Special Measures) Act 2012, Fuzi’s statement said. The act allows police to hold suspects for 28 days without charges.
Since 2013, Malaysian authorities have arrested 332 people suspected of having links to IS, of whom 66 have since been freed, according to government figures compiled by BenarNews.
IS successfully carried out its first terrorist attack on Malaysian soil – a grenade blast that injured eight patrons at a nightclub near Kuala Lumpur in June 2016.
Earlier this month, Malaysian authorities said they had foiled a plot to launch a terror attack during the Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur by arresting 19 suspected terrorists.
Eight of the suspects – two Philippine nationals and six Malaysians who were ASG members– were arrested in Kuala Lumpur and several states from early July till late August, police said on Sept. 5.
Authorities said the raids were launched “to thwart a terror plot” to disrupt last month’s games and the country’s 60th Independence Day celebration, on Aug. 31.
During a visit to the White House on Tuesday, Prime Minister Najib said he talked at length with President Trump about Malaysia’s counter-terrorism efforts. In addition, Malaysia had pledged $1 million for humanitarian assistance in areas liberated from IS.
In a joint statement released on Wednesday, Najib’s office said the two leaders vowed to strengthen cooperation to counter growing threats of IS in Southeast Asia.
“Both leaders reaffirmed the importance of promoting community resilience and mutual respect across religious and ethnic boundaries,” the statement said.
Ray Sherman in Kuala Lumpur contributed to the report.