KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 17 — The arrests of suspected Islamist State militants including an alleged suicide bomber has transformed the nebulous threat of terrorism in Malaysia into a real and tangible menace, said a local security expert.
Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar yesterday revealed that a man had been arrested while on the way to commit a suicide bombing in the city, barely days after Jakarta, Indonesia came under a concerted terror attack.
“It’s a game changer for police…” Ahmad El-Muhammady, an International Islamic University (UIM) professor who works with police on terror suspect rehabilitation, told the Wall Street Journal.
“The threat is actual, no longer potential, because it crossed the line from planning to executing”
Up until the latest arrests, suspected IS militants who have been arrested were either picked up during the planning of attacks or for links to the terrorist organisation.
Although more than 100 people have been detained for IS connections, this is the first time that a person was caught while en route to carry out an attack.
Khalid yesterday confirmed that the man, whom he said was picked up at the Setiawangsa LRT station and not the Jelatek station as previously reported, admitted to being instructed by his Syrian comrades to stage the suicide attack.
The national police chief also confirmed that the man is the individual responsible for hanging IS flags at several locations in Terengganu, Perak and Johor.
Malaysian police were put on red alert following the bombings in Jakarta three days ago that involved at least seven blasts and left seven people dead.
The Jakarta blasts followed a suicide bombing in Istanbul, Turkey, on Tuesday that killed 10 people, all of whom were Germans, which officials reportedly blamed on the Islamic State.
Malaysians have abnormally high levels of sympathy for the IS terrorist group, according to a recent Pew Research Centre study that showed over one in 10 here viewed the organisation favourably.
Expressed support for IS was higher only in Nigeria, the home to the current deadliest terrorist organisation, the Boko Haram, as rated by the Institute of Economics and Peace’s Global Terrorism Index 2015.
In neighbouring Indonesia — the largest Muslim country in the world by population — 79 per cent of respondents said they were against IS, with just four per cent saying they were positive about the organisation.