Malaysian IS militants remain unrepentant

KUALA LUMPUR (The Star/ANN) - Malaysian militants still opt for staying in Iraq and Syria in spite of the Islamic State terror group losing control over Mosul and Dabiq.

Far from wanting to return home, Malaysian militants in Iraq and Syria still prefer to remain there despite the fact that the Islamic State (IS) terror group is losing ground in its strongholds of Mosul and Dabiq.

Some 60 Malaysians are in IS’ ranks, fighting for the group in Iraq and Syria.

Intelligence sources revealed that they were opting to stay put, even as the IS was being backed into a corner due to continuous assaults by allied forces.

“Unlike the European militants, Malaysian fighters are deeply entrenched with the IS. There is no indication that they are heading back. In fact, more Malaysian IS cells have indicated their desire to go to Iraq and Syria,” Bukit Aman Special Branch Counter Terrorism Division head Deputy Comm Datuk Ayob Khan told The Star.

He cited the case of militant Amirul Ahmad Rahim, 26, who went to Syria on Oct 16, 2014, but was killed in a suicide bomb attack on Jan 2 this year.

“Instead of choosing to come home, his widow Lidia Izhar remarried there. According to her mother, she married an Egyptian fighter,” he said.

Malaysian fighters are still active in the Malay-speaking wing of IS – the Katibah Nu­santara – a group of Indonesian and Ma­­laysian IS fighters formed in late 2014, said DCP Ayob.

“Six Malaysians joined Katibah but two of them have since been killed while fighting against the Syrian army,” he said.

The surviving members are Mohd Faizal Abdullah, 33, Zainuri Kamaruddin, 49, Ahmad Asyraf Arbee Ahmad Jamal Arbee, 30, and even nine-year-old Muhammad Qamarul Asyraf Ismail.

On the home front, DCP Ayob said militants Mohd Rafi Udin, Zainuri Kamaruddin and especially Mohamad Wanndy Mohamad Jedi had been known to issue orders to IS cells in Malaysia.

In spite of the fighters remaining in the war-torn countries, DCP Ayob said intelligence agencies believed that IS cells in South-East Asia were becoming more organised.

“There are more groups and terror cells pledging allegiance to the terror group in the Philippines, southern Thailand, Indonesia and even in our country.

“These groups are well-funded. A cell in Ja­karta planning to bomb the Myanmar Em­­bassy was in possession of explosives more powerful than the ones used in the Bali bombing.

“Intelligence also indicated that the cell was acting under orders of known militant Bahrun Naim,” he said.

There is also the emergence of IS-affiliated groups in southern Philippines such as Maute, which was recently attacked by the Philippine army, causing concerns of a fallout that might lead to Sabah as a target.

“If they do, then it might possibly be small-scale sneak attacks, similar to lone-wolf types,” said DCP Ayob.

Despite the challenges, DCP Ayob said his division had thwarted at least 14 planned terrorist attacks in Malaysia.

Since 2013, 260 militants have been put behind bars.