AsiaWe Center – Four people, including three foreigners, have been arrested over their suspected involvement in a new Islamic State (IS) cell based in the Philippines, Malaysian police said on Monday (Jan 23).
The suspects are a 31-year-old Filipino man, two male Bangladeshi nationals aged 27 and 28, and a 27-year-old Malaysian woman.
They were arrested in Sabah and Kuala Lumpur between Jan 13 and 19.
The suspects are allegedly involved in a new Islamic State terror cell that planned to make Sabah a transit point for terrorists from Southeast Asia and South Asia to be smuggled into Mindanao in the Philippines, police said.
The cell was formed from an IS cell led by former University Malaya lecturer Dr Mahmud Ahmad, merging with the Abu Sayyaf group under Isnilon Hapilon.
The Filipino suspect is believed to be a member of the cell. He worked as a watch salesman in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah before his arrest on Jan 13.
He was allegedly tasked to recruit new IS members from Malaysia, Indonesia and Bangladesh as well as ethnic Rohingyas, and arrange to smuggle them into Marawi City in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao.
He had recruited the other three suspects, including an unemployed Malaysian woman who admitted to police that she planned to marry him.
The woman, who is originally from Selangor, was recruited in January through social media. She flew to Kota Kinabalu to meet him, and the two had planned to sneak into the southern Philippines via Sandakan in Sabah.
The two Bangladeshi suspects were arrested in Kuala Lumpur on Jan 19. The pair were working as salesmen.
Both are believed to have links with IS militant groups in Bangladesh and planned to travel to the southern Philippines.
Malaysian police said that, with the arrests, the Special Branch – its intelligence arm – had succeeded in “debilitating” the new terror cell.
The head of Malaysia’s counter terrorism unit Ayob Khan said the authorities have intelligence that Rohingya who are fleeing persecution in Myanmar’s Rakhine state may join IS.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has in the past raised concerns that tens of thousands of Rohingya who are seeking refuge in Malaysia may be exploited and radicalised by IS.
The country has been used as a transit centre between South Asia and the Middle East. Ayob also said that since 2013, Malaysia has arrested 268 terror suspects including the four who were recently apprehended. CHANNEL NEWASIA