KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's national police chief said Tuesday that 17 people detained over the weekend in a suspected Islamic militant plot had planned to kidnap high-profile figures and launch terrorist attacks.
Khalid Abu Bakar said the plotters arrested on Sunday were believed to have been inspired by the extremist Islamic State (IS) group and its bloody jihad in Syria and Iraq.
He said they also planned to rob banks to raise funds, and to raid armed forces' installations and police stations to obtain weapons.
Those arrested included a 49-year-old senior Islamic State group member, who had undergone military training in Afghanistan in 1989 and in Indonesia in 2000, Khalid said.
"Seventeen people between the ages of 14 to 49 were arrested while they were holding a secret meeting to plan terror attacks in the (Kuala Lumpur area)," he said in a statement.
"The aim of this new terror group was to form an IS-like Islamic state in Malaysia.
"Their plan included the kidnapping of high-profile people." Khalid did not provide details on whom the group was targeting, but in February, Zahid Hamidi, home minister in charge of internal security, warned that IS members in Malaysia had planned to kidnap tycoons and rob banks to finance terrorist activities.
The attacks were supposed to be carried out in the capital Kuala Lumpur and in nearby Putrajaya, the location of Malaysia's federal government apparatus.
But their campaign was thwarted after police raids in the capital and in the northern state of Kedah, said Khalid, who had announced the arrests on Monday without giving details.
Others arrested included a 38-year-old religious teacher who had visited Syria last year, two Malaysian military personnel, and an Indonesian arms expert formerly with the Southeast Asian militant group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI).
The latest arrests bring to 92 the total of people detained for suspected involvement in the IS jihad in Syria, Khalid added.
Malaysia's parliament on Tuesday passed a tough anti-terrorism law to counter the perceived IS threat, which allows authorities to detain terrorism suspects without charge virtually indefinitely, according to its critics.
The law's passage was denounced by the political opposition and rights groups as a blow for civil rights.
Police had said in January they had arrested a total of 120 people with suspected Islamic State links or sympathies, or who had sought to travel to Syria or Iraq, and that 67 Malaysians were known at the time to have gone abroad to join IS jihadists.