Malaysia said Tuesday that suspected militants it had detained for plotting to carry out terrorist attacks were part of a broader group trying to create an Islamic state there.
On Sunday, Malaysia detained 17 people suspected of planning terrorist attacks in the country’s capital of Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia’s police chief Khalid Abu Bakar later said that two of them had recently returned from Syria.
On Tuesday, Khalid said in a statement that the militants were part of a terror cell inspired by the Islamic State (IS) to create a similar regime in Malaysia. He said that the group had planned to kidnap prominent personalities and rob banks to fund their activities . They also planned to raid several army camps and police stations to boost their arsenal of weapons.
“The purpose of this new terrorist group is to establish an Islamic country a la IS in Malaysia,” Khalid said, according to Reuters.
The Malaysian newspaper The Star cited intelligence sources as saying that the leader of the group was a 45-year old former member of Kumpulan Militan Malaysia (KMM) who had received weapons training in Afghanistan, was involved in a conflict in Sulawesi, and went to Syria last year before returning to Malaysia. Among the others detained were a religious teacher – also believed to have returned from Syria – two civil servants, and a security officer. Khalid also indicated that a former member of the Jemaah Islamiyah militant group from Indonesia who was skilled in handling weapons was also detained.
The latest detentions came just as the country was debating two new antiterror laws that would reintroduce indefinite detention without trial and allow the seizure of travel documents of anyone supporting terror acts (The Diplomat reported on that here). Malaysia’s Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), which bears similarities to the Internal Security Act revoked in 2012 and has sparked rights concerns among critics, passed Malaysia’s parliament without amendment Tuesday.
“POTA is like a legal zombie arising from the grave of the abusive ISA and Emergency Ordinance that were revoked in 2012,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, told Deutsche Welle.
With these arrests, Khalid said Malaysia has now arrested 92 people believed to be supporters of IS. Those arrested reportedly include civil servants, navy and air force personnel, and university students. Authorities have also identified 39 Malaysians in Syria and Iraq.