Malaysia arrests 20 over suspected terror links

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 22 (Reuters) – Malaysia has arrested 20 suspected militants, including 13 foreigners, police said on Friday, adding to a list of hundreds detained in recent years accused of having links to terror groups.

The Muslim-majority Southeast Asian country has been on high alert since gunmen linked to Islamic State launched multiple attacks in Jakarta, the capital of neighbouring Indonesia, in January 2016.

The suspects were arrested in a counter-terror operation carried out in four states between Nov. 30 and Dec. 15, Inspector-General of Police Mohamad Fuzi Harun said in a statement.

They include a 50-year-old Filipino suspected of recruiting his countrymen in Malaysia to join up with the Abu Sayyaf, a militant group notorious for kidnappings and beheadings in the southern Philippines.

The man, who has been living in Malaysia since 2016, was believed to be a cousin of late Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, a Malaysian intelligence source told Reuters.

Hapilon, the Islamic State’s anointed “emir” in Southeast Asia, was killed in October by Philippine troops in Marawi city, where he had led a five-month siege.

Police also arrested an Indonesian, suspected of being a leader of Jamaah Ansharut Daulah, a pro-Islamic State alliance of Islamic militants, he said.

The man was involved in a July 2017 bombing in Bandung, Indonesia, before travelling to Malaysia to escape arrest, Mohamad Fuzi said.

“The suspect… planned to raise funds in Malaysia before departing for Syria to join up with Daesh,” he said, referring to Islamic State.

A 46-year-old former Malaysian teacher was arrested in Sarawak, on Borneo island, in connection with a plan to attack a beer festival in Kuala Lumpur, police said. Three others had been arrested in October in connection with the plan.

(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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