Malaysian police announced the arrest of a suspected Filipino bomb maker they said had ties to the militant group Abu Sayyaf and the separate arrests of six Malaysians involved in alleged terror plots by Islamic extremists.
The arrests add to hundreds carried out by Malaysia in recent years to disrupt Islamic militancy. Authorities fear that Islamic State fighters returning home from defeat in the Middle East will take part in like-minded groups in Southeast Asia or inspire people to sow lone-wolf attacks.
Police said in a weekend statement that they had recently arrested a Filipino bomb maker they said was close to Furuji Indama, a leader of Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines. The man had been planning to attack targets in the Malaysian part of Borneo island to help turn it into a haven for Philippine militants, police said.
The poorly policed waterways between Malaysian Borneo, Indonesia and the Philippines are a haven for pirates, smugglers and criminals including terrorists, authorities say. The countries are stepping up coordinated patrols to disrupt movements and capture suspects.
Foreign fighters joined up with an Islamic State-linked group last year to take over the southern Philippine city of Marawi and were dislodged only after months of fighting. Authorities have said survivors and supporters are trying to regroup.
Police said in their statement that they had also arrested six Malaysians with affiliations with Islamic State who were plotting to target police and bomb non-Muslim places of worship. Two worked as cleaners in neighboring Singapore, they said.
All seven suspects weren’t available for comment, and it wasn’t clear whether they had legal representation. None of their names were released. They were arrested for offenses related to terrorism under special security laws, which allow for indefinite detention without trial.
Malaysia is a Muslim-majority country with one of the most developed economies in Southeast Asia. In 2016, Islamic State-linked militants carried out a grenade attack in 2016 near the main city, Kuala Lumpur, injuring eight people. A month later, police said they had foiled a bomb plot against top police officials.
Write to Ben Otto at firstname.lastname@example.org