KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysian authorities said on Saturday they had foiled a bomb attack on top police officers and arrested 14 suspected Islamic State (IS) operatives in a week-long operation.
The suspects included a senior IS member who is believed to be responsible for recruiting a Malaysian IS militant, Abu Ghani Yaacob, who was killed in Syria on April 17, Inspector-general of police Khalid Abu Bakar said in a statement.
“Based on a search, police managed to seize one completed IED weighing one kilogram, for use in a planned attack on the top PDRM leadership,” Khalid said in a statement, using the Malay acronym for the Royal Malaysian Police, and referring to an improvised explosive device, or bomb.
Malaysia’s security agencies are on guard against IS spreading in the Muslim majority, but multi-ethnic Southeast Asian nation.
A few months ago, officials estimated nearly 50 Malaysians, most of them from the Muslim ethnic Malay majority, had joined IS in Syria and Iraq.
Khalid said police believe the 49-year-old senior IS member detained in the northern state of Kedah was an active recruiter and was responsible for arranging for IS members to travel to Syria.
A 43-year-old woman, who was believed to have been planning to sneak into the South Philippines to join the IS-aligned Abu Sayyaf group, was detained in a separate raid in Perak state.
The 12 others detained in separate operations in various places including the capital, Kuala Lumpur, are believed to be from the same cell, Khalid said.
One of the suspects was believed to have passed on bomb-making instructions at the behest of a Malaysian IS recruiter based in Syria identified as Muhammad Wanndy Mohamed Jedi.
The 14 suspects are aged between 20 and 49, and include cooks, a mechanic, a welder and a student.
Police did not identify any of them.
Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said this year police had foiled an IS plot to kidnap Prime Minister Najib Razak and other senior ministers last year.
While both al-Qaeda and IS have recruited Malaysians, there has been no significant attack by either group inside the country since the specter of Islamist militancy loomed in the wake of al-Qaeda’s 2001 attacks on the United States.
(Reporting by Joseph Sipalan; Editing by Robert Birsel)