By Muzliza Mustafa and Hadi Azmi
Malaysian police on Friday announced the arrests of 10 suspected militants, including five allegedly involved in a terror plot targeting a Middle Eastern country and who believed they were obeying a messianic call.
The five belonged to a group calling itself Asoib, or Youths from the East, while the other five suspects were members of an unrelated militant group identified as Ar Rayah, Malaysia’s police chief said in a statement.
The 10 men were arrested during raids by counter-terrorist officers in the states of Selangor, Johor, Pahang, Terengganu, Malacca, Kelantan and Penang that were carried out between Aug. 10 and Aug. 31, Police Inspector-General Mohamad Fuzi Harun said.
The five members of the Asoib cell, aged between 39 and 53, “were planning to join a terrorist group from a Middle East country to launch an attack on a country bordering the country,” Fuzi said in a statement released in Malay.
The announcement marks the first time that Malaysian police have publicized the presence of supporters of both groups in the country. According to officials, neither is linked with the Middle East-based terror outfit known as Islamic State.
The Asoib cell from Malaysia was to be supplied with weapons by the terrorist group upon arrival in the Middle East, Fuzi said.
“One member of the Asoib is already in the Middle Eastern country and is making preparations and coordinating the attack,” the police chief said without revealing the cell’s destination country.
Saudi Arabia was the country targeted in the terrorist plot, a highly placed Malaysian government source told BenarNews on condition of anonymity.
“Yes, it is Saudi,” the source said.
A source from the Middle East told Singapore-based ChannelNews Asia that the suspects planned to travel to Yemen before going on to Saudi Arabia, which is next-door.
End of days
According to Fuzi, the Asoib group twists the sayings of Prophet Muhammad and believes the end of the world is approaching and that a messiah, Imam Mahdi, will appear in Mecca this year.
“The group will then merge with the messianic soldiers of Imam Mahdi and will launch strikes against secular nations and the Antichrist,” the police chief said.
Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, chief of the Malaysian police’s counter-terrorist special branch, said the prophecy or the belief of the existence of Imam Mahdi and the fight against evil (dajjal) had existed for many years.
There was a case in the country in the 1980s, when one group who claimed to be followers of Imam Mahdi attacked a police station in Johor state, Ayob said.
“The only thing difference now is the concept and belief has been hyped by the current situation in Islamic world, especially the happenings in Syria,” he told BenarNews.
“As for the concept of dajjal, to these believers it is everywhere, so it is not in the form of another being, or animals or living things. [What ever] is not in line with Islamic teachings –to their understanding – is considered dajjal. Hence, their aim is fight against it. How? Through attacks,” he added.
Plots targeting Malacca, Penang
The second group of five suspects belong to the Ar Rayah group and range in age from 18 to 50 years old, police said.
An initial investigation showed that the cell members were planning to launch attacks on entertainment and vice-related locations around the states of Malacca and Penang, including one spot frequented by transgender people, Fuzi’s statement said. Police seized five smoke bombs while conducting raids linked with the Ar Rayah group.
The cell’s oldest member, who is among the five in custody, is a foreigner who was working at a local restaurant. He is believed to be a member of a terror group in Southeast Asia who has been propagating the group’s ideology through the messaging platform WhatsApp, Fuzi said without giving more details about this other group.
“The suspect is also tasked with influencing group members to contribute money to purchase firearms and bullets,” the police inspector-general said.
The foreigner in question “belonged to a militant group in southern Thailand,” ChannelNews Asia quoted an intelligence source as saying.
A separatist insurgency waged by Malay-speaking rebels for decades has gripped Thailand’s predominantly Muslim Deep South, located along Peninsular Malaysia’s northern border.
All 10 suspects arrested in last month’s raids are being held under Malaysia’s Security Offenses (Special Measures) Act (SOSMA) for alleged terrorist-related offenses, Fuzi said.