One of the first Malaysians linked to the extremist group Islamic State (IS) has been killed in Iraq, senior officials in Malaysia’s government confirmed Monday.
Mohd Nizam Ariffin (also known as Abu Afghan), 38, was killed in the city of Mosul during clashes with Iraqi government security forces on Friday, Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said.
Last year, Nizam had appeared in an IS propaganda video in which he and a fellow countryman warned Malaysian authorities of terrorist attacks being plotted on home soil, officials said.
“Nizam was involved with terror groups and got involved in the clash at his own risk. His death is not considered as ‘syahid.’ He is no martyr,” the New Straits Times newspaper quoted Zahid as saying on Monday.
A senior counter-terrorism official also confirmed Nizam’s death, but said authorities were gathering more details.
According to the source who requested anonymity, Nizam is among 31 Malaysian militants who have been killed while fighting for IS in Syria and Iraq, while 56 others are believed to be fighting in those countries.
Nizam left Malaysia for Syria on March 6, 2014, the source said.
“He is one of the early Malaysians who arrived in Syria,” the official told BenarNews.
According to the source, Mohd Nizam joined the Ajnad al-Sham militant group in Syria but later signed on with IS when his friend, Lotfi Ariffin, died in September 2014. Lotfi, a former religious teacher, was information chief for the faith-based Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) in the northern state of Kedah. He died from wounds suffered in an assault by Syrian government forces.
The source played down the impact of Mohd Nizam’s death.
“Abu Afghan’s death is not so significant as he didn’t hold any important role,” the source said.
Zahid, who is also Malaysia’s home minister, said the Malaysian government would not be repatriating Nizam’s body because he died a terrorist.
“If his family wants to bring back his body, then they will need to communicate with his friends,” The Star, another Malaysian paper, quoted the minister as saying.
Warning of attacks
In January 2016, Nizam and another Malaysian fighter in Syria, Abdul Halid Dari, appeared in a video featuring the IS logo in which they warned that attacks would take place back home in retaliation for the arrests of IS members and supporters in the country.
Since 2013, Malaysian authorities have arrested 306 people suspected of having links to IS, of whom 66 have since been freed, according to government figures compiled by BenarNews.
In the video, the duo spoke in Malay and demanded the release of those who had been detained.
“In the video, they also identified themselves as members of Katibah Nusantara and called on their ‘Somalia brothers,’ Al-Shabaab, to join the group in fighting in Syria,” the senior counter-terrorism official told BenarNews.
The official was referring to a combat unit of IS, Katibah Nusantara, which is made up exclusively of fighters from across the Malay Archipelago who speak Malay or variations of the language, including Indonesians.
Authorities in Malaysia and neighboring Indonesia have long warned of a threat posed by IS and like-minded groups using social media to indoctrinate and recruit local youths as supporters and combatants.
On June 28, 2016, suspected militants hurled a grenade outside a nightclub in Puchong district, a 30-minute drive from the capital Kuala Lumpur. Eight people were wounded in the attack, which was the first one claimed by IS on Malaysian soil.
In March, two men were sentenced to 25 years in prison for the grenade attack.
Malaysian police had blamed Muhammad Wanndy Bin Mohamed Jedi, Malaysia’s most-wanted IS member for the incident at the Movida nightclub. Wanndy was a prolific IS recruiter who was killed on April 29 in a drone strike in Raqqa, Syria.
Singapore arrests IS supporter
Elsewhere on Monday, authorities in neighboring Singapore announced a 22-year-old woman who was allegedly planning to go to Syria with her child and marry an IS fighter had been arrested.
Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari, who worked as an infant care assistant at a community nursery and became radicalized at age 18 after watching IS propaganda videos, was the first woman to be taken into custody under Singapore’s Internal Security Act (ISA), the Ministry of Home Affairs said in a news release.
“Izzah was intent on joining ISIS and was actively planning to make her way to Syria, with her young child,” the ministry said, using another acronym for IS and noting that she had actively posted and shared IS-related materials online.
Since 2015, 14 Singaporeans have been detained on suspicion of having IS links, officials said. Under Singapore’s Internal Security Act, officials are allowed to detain terror suspects without trial for up to two years.
The Southeast Asian region has been on high alert in recent weeks after IS-inspired Filipino militants, backed by foreign fighters, including those from Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, flew the black IS flag in the southern Philippine city of Marawi. After three weeks of fighting, the militants remain locked in battles with Philippine government forces.
At least 227 people, including 138 militants, have been killed since fighting there broke out on May 23.