Malaysian police have nabbed three suspected Islamic State (IS) sympathizers in connection with recent security threats in the country’s capital.
According to Deputy Inspector-General of Police Noor Rashid Ibrahim, the men – a Malaysian, a Syrian and an Indonesian – were arrested in a raid carried out by the Special Branch’s Counterterrorism Division near Alor Street, a popular tourist destination in the city center, on Thursday at 6pm. He added that the suspects, one of whom had made frequent trips to Yemen, were believed to have been planning to launch terrorist attacks targeting public areas of interest to Malaysia as well as Western nations, and that investigations were ongoing to verify this.
“Investigation is ongoing to determine if the three of them are involved in any plans to launch attacks in Malaysia,” he said in a statement according to The Associated Press.
The arrests came shortly after Western embassies issued specific warnings to their citizens about a possible terrorist attack in the area. The U.S. embassy issued an advisory Thursday urging American citizens to avoid Alor Street and surrounding areas because of “credible threat information regarding a potential terrorist attack.” The Australian embassy also followed suit.
While there are often conflicting reports about exact numbers, Malaysia is believed to have arrested over 100 Islamic State sympathizers over the past two years. Police have been on high alert since last month, when ten suspected IS members were arrested in multiple raids across the country, with six of them being from the country’s security forces. Officials told local news portal The Malaysian Insider earlier this week that they had increased patrols in Alor Street, the U.S. embassy and nearby areas in anticipation of a retaliatory attack for that crackdown.
“Yes we are on alert. More policemen have been sent to the ground,” a police source had said.
As The Diplomat reported earlier this week, Indonesia has also been warning about the rising IS threat in Malaysia (See: “Indonesia Warns of Islamic State Threat From Malaysia”). Saud Usman Nasution, the country’s counterterrorism chief, had warned that IS was collaborating with smugglers to bring in thousands foreign fighters to Indonesia from Malaysia.
“So we need to stay vigilant, more so because there is information that in Malaysia, there are thousands, a lot of foreign terrorist fighters there who are about to be deployed – we don’t know where to – under the network,” he said in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.