Malaysian police on Thursday said they had arrested at least 16 people linked to the armed group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) for allegedly plotting several attacks.
Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, a senior official in the police’s counterterrorism division, said the suspects, including 12 Indonesians, three Malaysians and one Indian national, are being held across the country, including the capital, Kuala Lumpur, and the Borneo state of Sabah.
“The suspects were detained in a special operation between August 10 until yesterday,” Ayob Khan was quoted as saying by state news agency Bernama in a press conference at the national police headquarters.
The Malay Mail newspaper also quoted Ayob as saying that the suspects were plotting attacks targeting unnamed political figures and non-Muslim groups.
He said that the individuals were also trying to recruit other Indonesians and Malaysians on social media to join their operation.
“One of the Malaysians from the same group planned to stage attacks on politicians and non-Muslim groups here apparently for making negative comments towards Islam, suppressing the faith, and for insulting the Malays,” Ayob was quoted as saying.
More than half the Malaysian population is ethnic Malay and Muslim, but the country has substantial communities of ethnic Chinese, Indian and indigenous people.
Malaysiakini, an independent news website, reported that two of the Malaysian suspects, who were detained in Sabah, acted as “facilitators” for an Indonesian family of five, who were suspected of carrying out a suicide bombing attack on a church in the southern Philippine island of Jolo.
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The Malaysian suspects are also reportedly involved in “spreading” ISIL propaganda and for sending funds to the Philippine-based Maute armed group, which led the month-long siege in Marawi in 2017.
Meanwhile, the 38-year-old Indian woman, who was detained in early August, is accused of collecting funds for the group.
It is not known if the suspects had previously travelled to the Middle East, before being detained in Malaysia.
According to Malaysian authorities, at least 102 Malaysians are known to have left the country to live in ISIL territory in Syria and Iraq.
It is believed that hundreds of Indonesians also travelled to Syria and Iraq to join the group.
Since the defeat of ISIL, many of its followers have dispersed across the Middle East, and some have reportedly returned to their home countries.
Malaysia has arrested hundreds of suspected armed fighters in recent years and suffered its first ISIL attack in June 2016, when a grenade attack at a nightclub in Selangor injured eight people.
In 2015, then Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong said that as many as 50,000 Malaysians were ISIL sympathisers.