Ten suspected Islamic State (IS) militants detained in Sabah this year belonged to the same terror cell which has been using the state as a transit point to smuggle fellow militants into southern Philippines since 2014.
Sources said Spanish militant Abdelhakim Labidi Adib, who was arrested on Jan 24 at an army checkpoint on Basilan island, had used the services of the terror cell along with others from the region, Bangladesh and west Asian countries.
The nine men and a woman were detained during raids in several districts in Sabah, between Jan 25 and Feb 6, by the Bukit Aman Special Branch Counter Terrorism Division.
Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Mohamad Fuzi Harun said two Malaysians and three Filipino men, aged between 33 and 50, were arrested on Jan 25 and Jan 26 in Sandakan.
“Two of them were labourers, one an unlicensed money-lender, one a boat operator and another jobless.
“One of the suspects – a 39-year-old Philippine national – was taking orders from a senior IS leader in southern Philippines to arrange safe passage for militants from Sandakan to Zamboanga, where they would join the IS faction there,” he said in a statement.
The same suspect also received weapons training in southern Philippines.
“The other four are believed to have assisted the main suspect in smuggling militants into southern Philippines via Sandakan,” he said.
Mohamad Fuzi said the next series of arrests of three male Filipinos and a Malaysia woman, aged between 27 and 32, was made in Penampang on Feb 4.
The suspects were working as a security guard, gardener, labourer while one of them was jobless.
“One of the suspects – a 27-year-old man – is a senior member of the Abu Sayyaf Group, which is based in Basilan while another one – a 32-year-old man – had assisted the travels of a foreign militant into southern Philippines,” he said.
Follow-up operation led to the arrest of a 49-year-old Filipino man, who has a permanent resident status, in Sandakan on Feb 6.
It is learnt that while the mastermind of the group oversaw the whole transit-smuggling operation, each militant detained had specific roles in the terror cell.
“Some were the go-between for the militants while others functioned as money changer and transporter.
“The militants who use the terror cell’s services would be smuggled into southern Philippines via the sea route without any valid documents,” a source said.
The same source added that human smugglers hired to ferry the militants to Mindanao or Zamboanga would take payment without even knowing who their passengers were.
“The militants who hired the terror cells are often charged RM300 for safe passage.
“Authorities have discovered that the cell operated in Sandakan and Penampang.
“They also operated in Tawau, which is one of the routes used by militants to head to Indonesia,” another source said.
Aside from the terror cell in Sabah, Bukit Aman also arrested a 34-year-old Malaysian man, who was repatriated to Malaysia on Feb 2 after being detained in Singapore.
“The suspect, who is a lorry driver from Penang, is suspected of planning to head to Syria to join IS there.
“He was arrested by Singaporean authorities on Jan 18,” the IGP said.
The latest arrests bring the total of those detained since February 2013 to 371 (332 men and 39 women) while the Counter Terrorism Division has thwarted 19 terror plots.
Source: The Star