Police in Malaysia announced this week the arrest of fifteen people suspected of fundraising, recruiting, and attempting to purchase and amass bomb-making materials for the Islamic State (ISIS/IS/Daesh) terrorist group. One of those arrested is a police officer.
Reuters reports that some of the fifteen suspects are believed to have been operating together under the orders of Muhammad Wanndy Mohamed Jedi, an Islamic State operative with Malaysian roots, located in Syria. Some were plotting an attack within Malaysia’s borders, while others were working to recruit more jihadis for the cause or fundraise to help bring plots to fruition.
They were involved in collecting funds to be channeled to an Islamic State-linked group in the southern Philippines and arranging the movement of “two foreign terror suspects” from Malaysia to a Southeast Asian country, [Malaysian Inspector General] Khalid Abu Bakar said. Other activities included attempting to acquire chemicals to make bombs, recruiting Malaysians to join Islamic State in Syria, collecting funds from Islamic State sympathizers in Malaysia and setting up working arrangements with militant groups around Southeast Asia, he said.
Malaysian officials have grown increasingly tense regarding the potential threat of an Islamic State attack in the Southeast Asian country, which boasts a majority Muslim population. On Friday, a shopping mall in Peringgit shut down after a written note surfaced claiming terrorists had planted four bombs around the mall. While the threat proved to be a false alarm, the swiftness with which Malaysian authorities reacted highlights the fears of a potential successful terror attack unfolding in the near future.
Malaysian police announced this week an initiative not just to capture and contain Islamic State jihadists, but to counter their propaganda online. “We cannot afford to wait,” Inspector General Khalid said on Friday. “That’s why every single piece of information, no matter how small that links a person with Daesh members, we will take action against them.” The initiative will launch April 1 and will boast an online counter-terror recruitment team in every state of Malaysia. Police did not provide details on what the counter-terror messaging centers will post online specifically.
Earlier this month, Malaysian authorities announced they had thwarted an Islamic State plan to abduct Prime Minister Najib Razak, as well as several of his ministers. “On January 30, 2015, there were plans by 13 people linked to Daesh [Islamic State] to kidnap the country’s leaders including the Prime Minister, the Home Minister and the Defence Minister,” Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi told reporters.
“Although there is no proper Daesh establishment in the country, those here [in Malaysia] were being influenced and have been receiving orders from the IS network in Syria,” he explained. The arrests this week prove the ties between ISIS jihadists in Syria and supporters in Malaysia.
The Islamic State is far from the only jihadist group operating in Malaysia, however. Malaysia’s The Star reported in January that there are four major Syrian rebel and/or jihadi groups recruiting in Malaysia: “the IS, Ajnad al-Sham, the Al-Nusra Front (also known as Al-Qaeda in Syria) and the Free Syrian Army.”
The Malaysian government and native Islamist groups also work to impose Islam as a state religion, though they denounce the Islamic State. The government admitted this week that it has made lists of “liberal Muslim” citizens to be targeted. The “deviants” – labeled such for believing in un-Islamic ideals such as “pluralism,” will be the target of “efforts to sway them back to traditional religious beliefs.” Among deviant activities, according to Sharia, as practiced in Malaysia are public interactions between men and women, including hugs and kisses on the cheek and any interaction with dogs, which are considered haram [forbidden].