By Hareez Lee and Mariyam Ahmad
Malaysian authorities on Monday said they recovered explosives, guns, ammunition and a small amount of methamphetamine during weekend raids in northern Kelantan state that led to the arrests of six Thai nationals.
The suspects, between the ages of 19 and 55, are all related and include two married couples from Thailand’s insurgency-stricken Deep South, according to police. The six were arrested following two raids Saturday morning raids on houses in Ketereh, a town along Kelantan’s border with the Deep South.
“Investigations revealed that the bomb was not related to Daesh and we believe that they wanted to use the explosive for their protection (from authorities),” state police Chief Hasanuddin Hassan said, using a different term for the extremist group Islamic State. “We also believe the guns were used by the suspects for protection as they were involved in drug trafficking.”
All six had entered Malaysia illegally and began renting the houses in the middle of last year, Hasanuddin said. The suspects are under remand until Feb. 10.
A team from the state police narcotics department raided the first house around 2:30 a.m. Saturday, arresting a married couple, ages 23 and 19, and a man, 39. Police recovered three pistols and explosive components including an electronic circuit board, batteries, sulphur and firecrackers, along with methamphetamine valued at 150 ringgit (U.S. $38.50).
“Kelantan state police’s bomb disposal unit was deployed to inspect the home-made explosive device,” Hasanuddin said.
The second raid occurred about 4:40 a.m. and led to the arrests of another couple and a woman between the ages of 31 and 55. Police recovered a fourth gun, 164 rounds of ammunition, methamphetamine valued at 100 ringgit ($25.70) and bomb-making components, according to Hasanuddin.
“We believe the seized items were smuggled through an illegal base at the Malaysia-Thailand border in Kelantan,” he said.
Police: Suspects rented handguns to others
Police believe the handguns were smuggled into Malaysia after the suspects bought them for between 5,000 ringgit ($1,283) and 6,000 ringgit ($1,539) each, Hasanuddin said.
“We believe they also rented their handguns to locals, but we are still investigating whether they had been used in drug or other criminal activities,” he said.
A security official in the Thai Deep South said the six had stayed in Kelantan illegally for nearly a year and the handguns likely were purchased and brought across the border through Sungai Kolok town to Kelantan.
The Malaysia-Thai border that runs through Kelantan and the neighboring northern states of Perlis, Kedah and Perak is infamous for smuggling activities involving drugs and weapons.
The Deep South has seen nearly 7,000 people – many of them civilians – killed in violence between Muslim and Malay-speaking separatists and the government since 2004.
Since 2015, Thailand’s military-controlled government has held exploratory talks with MARA Patani, a panel that claims to represent all rebel groups in the region. But those negotiations, facilitated by Malaysia, have failed to produce a limited ceasefire seen as a crucial first step in settling the conflict.