Two Maldivian men are among 19 suspected terrorists with links to the Islamic State arrested by the Malaysian police in major raids last month.
The two Maldivians, aged 29 and 33, were arrested in Johor Bahu along with a Malaysian on August 7 and 9, Malaysian media reported Tuesday.
“The two Maldives men, who worked as air-conditioner technicians, were arrested for using Malaysia and Singapore as a transit point before heading to Syria to join IS,” Inspector-General of Police Datuk Seri Mohamad Fuzi Harun was quoted as saying in a statement.
“The 40-year-old Malaysian trader was arrested for being in possession of six issues of Dabiq, the official IS newsletter, and a few IS-related articles on his mobile phone.”
According to The Star, the 19 suspects included eight members of the Abu Sayyaf militant group – six Malaysians and two Philipinnos – whose “mastermind” was suspected of having planned attacks in Kuala Lumpur during the closing of the Southeast Asian Games and Malaysia’s National Day celebrations.
The other suspects included a Palestinian planning to join an IS cell in the southern Philippines, a Bangladeshi suspected of belonging to an IS-affiliated group in Bangladesh, two Indonesian men accused of recruiting fighters for IS, and three Iraqis linked to IS cells in Iraq and an IS-friendly group in Albania.
The spokesman of the Maldives Police Service said information about the case could not be shared with the media at present.
Last May, a man was arrested for hoisting the black flag of IS at the artificial beach in Malé.
In late August, the criminal court concluded the trial of the first suspects prosecuted for travelling abroad with the intent of joining a terror group after it was criminalised by the 2015 Anti-Terrorism Act.
The three Maldivian men were charged with terrorism following their arrest from the Turkey-Syria border in February 2016. More recently, a Maldivian man who attempted to cross into Syria to join the civil war was arrested and repatriated in February this year. Two others who allegedly fought with militant groups in Pakistan are also standing trial.
The anti-terror law was passed after the current administration was accused of ignoring the threat posed by jihadi recruitment since the first reports of Maldivians joining terror groups emerged in 2014.
The opposition claims as many as 250 Maldivians are fighting in Syria and Iraq – the highest per capita in the region. But the government says the opposition has been inflating the figure to lobby international support for its cause, offering various lower estimates and decrying damage to the economy due to “exaggerated” claims.
Defence Minister Adam Shareef Umar insisted in late April that the number of Maldivians fighting in Syria is 49.
At least six Maldivians fighting with the al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front in Syria are believed to have been killed in battle. In late April, the group’s media wing reported that a Maldivian man with the alias Abu Yousif Al-Maldivi was killed during clashes with the Syrian Arab Army inside the town of Taybat Al-Imam in northern Hama.
In August last year, the parliament approved the first state policy on combating terrorism and violent extremism, which broadly outlined plans to take “a central and active role” internationally, strengthen national security, and conduct de-radicalisation and rehabilitation programmes.