KUALA LUMPUR: Eleven people, including individuals arranging for the safe passage of militants to the southern Philippines, have been arrested for suspected links to the Islamic State (IS) terror group.
The suspects — 10 men and a woman — were detained in Johor and Sabah between Jan 25 and Feb 6 by the police's counter terrorism division.
The first series of arrests were made on Jan 25 and Jan 26 against five men — two Malaysians and three Philippine nationals aged between 33 and 50 — in Sandakan, Sabah.
"Two of them were labourers, one an un-licensed moneylender, one a boat operator and another was jobless.
"One of the suspects — a 39-year-old Filipino — was receiving 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," Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Mohamad Fuzi Harun said in a statement on Wednesday.
The same suspect also received weapons training in the southern Philippines and training from the terror group, he said.
"The other four are believed to have assisted the main suspect in smuggling militants to the southern Philippines via Sandakan," he said.
Mohamad Fuzi said the next series of arrests was against four individuals — two male Filipinos and a Malaysia woman aged between 27 and 32 — in Penampang, Sabah on Feb 4.
"One of the suspects — a 27-year-old man — is a senior member of the Abu Sayyaf militant group, which is based in Basilan, while another one — a 32-year-old man — had helped a foreign militant make his way to the southern Philippines," he said.
Follow-up operations led to the arrest of a 48-year-old Filipino man, who has Malaysian permanent-resident status, on Feb 6 in Sandakan.
The country's top cop said the other arrest was of a 38-year-old Malaysian man who was deported to Malaysia on Feb 2 after being detained in Singapore on Jan 18.
"The suspect, who is from Penang, is suspected of having planned to head to Syria to join the IS there.
"He was arrested by Singaporean authorities on Jan 18 and was handed over to the counter terrorism division in Johor Baru on Feb 2," he said.
Based on the arrests in Sabah, Mohamad Fuzi said it was learned that the Abu Sayyaf group was attempting to form a terror cell in Sabah so that they could successfully arrange for the safe passage of IS militants in the region to the southern Philippines.
"The militants were to receive weapons training in the Philippines.
"The same terror cell in Sabah would later have been used to launch attacks in the state," he said.