KUALA LUMPUR - Some 30 Malaysians have joined the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militant group to fight in Iraq and Syria, and more are lining up to become recruits, reported a Malaysian newspaper.
The men were recruited via social media and small religious discussion groups, the New Straits Times (NST) said yesterday, citing intelligence reports.
The news came soon after the death of Malaysia's first suicide bomber in Iraq was reported on May 26.
Ahmad Tarmimi Maliki, 26, a factory worker from Pahang, had joined up with the ISIL and blown up a military SUV with himself in it, killing 25 Iraqi soldiers at their Swat headquarters in al-Anbar province.
An intelligence source told NST that the Malaysian recruits' chief aim was to help and liberate their fellow Sunni Muslims "from oppression" by joining the ISIL, and some were willing to sell their properties for the cause.
"Some of the Malaysians who joined ISIL's battles were also known to have been killed in action, while many have stayed there to continue fighting," the source was quoted as saying in NST's front-page report.
Terrorism analysts warn that extremist clerics in Malaysia - some of them foreigners - could have manipulated impressionable Malaysian youths, who could have come from any economic background.
Factors include "poor understanding of religious exhortations that is easily exploited by charismatic clerics, and personal troubles that render them more vulnerable to manipulation", said Ms Elina Noor, an expert on terrorism with the Institute of Strategic and International Studies in Kuala Lumpur.
"There are also independent and charismatic clerics - some of whom are foreign - in urban areas, including universities, who are propagating radical ideology and interpretations of jihad," she told The Straits Times yesterday.
The police's counter-terrorism unit has arrested 15 Malaysians linked to ISIL and Al-Qaeda splinter group Abu Sayyaf in the southern Philippines.
They included 11 people nabbed in April on suspicion of starting a military training cell in Malaysia to recruit fighters for Syria under the guise of humanitarian work. Three Malaysian men and a housewife have been charged with promoting terrorism in Syria.
Just last Friday, the authorities also detained a navy officer and two others in Sabah for being part of a military group that is planning to conduct suicide bombings in Syria and Iraq.
The three suspects - one of whom is allegedly a senior member of a militant group that recently conducted military training at an Abu Sayyaf camp in the Philippines - were detained as part of investigations into ISIL-related activities.
In October 2012, two Malaysians were also charged in Lebanon for suspected links to an Al-Qaeda militant group and for trying to enter Syria to conduct suicide attacks.
To counter the militant threat, the Malaysian government is doing new background checks on its officers, said Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.
"No one is above suspicion as far as terrorist activities are concerned," Datuk Seri Zahid was quoted as saying by The Star newspaper yesterday.
"We are not saying that all security personnel have such links, but we want to weed out those who do."
This article was first published on June 17, 2014.
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