KUALA LUMPUR - Like shadows moving around undetected among the population, the 12 militant suspects arrested over the weekend were "clean skins", potential attackers with a clean record who flew under the radar of security officials.
"The 12 men who were arrested are from a new cell. There is no (criminal) record on any of them and they flew under our radar," a senior counter-terrorism source told The Straits Times.
"And if there is no (intelligence) on such militants, how are we going to disrupt them? We need to broaden our intelligence collection," said the source.
Malaysia's Special Branch counter- terrorism division arrested the 12 men linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) last Saturday and Sunday. One of the men was arrested in Cheras district. The remaining 11 were on their way up Gunung Nuang - the highest peak in Selangor state - to assemble a bomb when they were arrested.
The 2005 London bombing was carried out by four "clean skin" British militants, who detonated four bombs aboard the city's underground trains across the country, killing 52 people.
According to counter-terrorism analysts, clean skins pose a significant security threat as they are typically unknown to the authorities until something happens.
"A lot of them have no past records. No one is aware of their existence and the threats they pose until something happens," said Associate Professor Kumar Ramakrishna, head of policy studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.
The men had plans to attack government buildings in the administrative capital of Putrajaya and in Kuala Lumpur, as well as police stations across the country.
Malaysia became a target for attacks by the militants when a senior member of the cell failed to make it to Syria.
The militant was then told by a Malaysian in Syria to launch attacks in Malaysia instead.
"The senior member of the cell was stopped at the northern Malaysian border and could not go to Syria. His Malaysian contact in Syria then told him to carry out attacks in Malaysia," said the counter-terrorism source.
"They had wanted to make a big show of the attacks," the source added.
Police seized more than 20kg each of ammonium nitrate and potassium nitrate, as well as other bomb-making paraphernalia such as PVC pipes and nails.
"All the materials, bought in the open market, could make five to six bombs," the source said.
When the police swooped in on the men, they were hiking up the hill with the explosive materials, which they intended to use to assemble bombs at the peak.
"The men were carrying 2kg to 3kg of materials each during the four-hour hike," said the source.
Prof Ramakrisna said there was a need for the broader community to play a role in helping to detect clean skins in society.
"It is important for families, friends and teachers to play a role in keeping an eye out for young people who suddenly develop extremist religious beliefs and views on Syria and Iraq. The same goes for their views on what's happening in Malaysia and Indonesia."
Young Indonesians and Malaysians who fall under the influence of ISIS consider their respective governments to be infidel states as they are not ruled by a Constitution based on syariah, or Islamic law.
This article was first published on April 29, 2015.
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