Malaysia will use all measures at its disposal, including intercepting phone messages, as it tries to nail down the remaining members of a terror cell that plotted to bomb strategic targets in the Klang Valley.
The capital city has been put on heightened security alert since 12 men linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) were nabbed with large amounts of explosive materials at the weekend.
Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi confirmed in Parliament yesterday that the administrative capital of Putrajaya as well as the federal Parliament were targeted by the men, aged 17 to 41.
A senior counter-terrorism source told The Straits Times yesterday that the suspects were all "clean skins", meaning they had no previous criminal records, thus making detection difficult.
Datuk Seri Zahid told reporters later that even some prison wardens and military personnel had been influenced by militant Islamism.
"Under our enforcement of preventive laws, surveillance is done on all information through all online channels. We are not persecuting such a person. We are looking at the contents of his Telegram, WhatsApp, MMS, SMS and other data," he said in the Senate.
Although he did not explicitly mention phone taps, Malaysia has laws allowing for it. An amendment to the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act passed last week allows information gleaned from such surveillance to be used as evidence in court.
The minister also said the controversial use of electronic monitoring devices to track terror suspects would begin in July.
Since April 2013, 107 people have been nabbed over terror links, and they will be required to wear the devices if they are placed under restricted residence and no longer under indefinite detention. The newly approved Prevention of Terrorism Act allows for indefinite detention without trial.
The move comes as the Malaysian Navy admitted that several of its personnel were found to be involved with ISIS.
Analysts say ISIS is keen to recruit military and civil service personnel because they have easy access to firearms and ammunition, classified information as well as entry to high-security areas like Parliament.
ISIS also appears to appeal to professionals and administrators, whom it needs to help achieve its goal of setting up an Islamic state.
Calling this worrying, Associate Professor Kumar Ramakrishna, head of policy studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said: "My concern is twofold: First, ISIS seems to be succeeding in attracting relatively qualified people, and second, such educated people are buying into ISIS' religiously legitimated vision enough to join."
The 12 men were caught with items, including about 20kg each of ammonium nitrate and potassium nitrate, which are used to make bombs, an ISIS flag, two remote controls, three PVC pipes and equipment believed to be used to produce explosives.
Besides confirming that navy officers were among the 107 arrested in the past two years, Mr Zahid also revealed that seven prison guards had become sympathisers of militant groups after they were influenced by terror suspects who had been held for years under the Internal Security Act before it was repealed in 2012.
"We have rehabilitated them (prison wardens) and they are now still on duty. The person (Islamic militant) involved, we have isolated him and moved him to a different prison," he said.
This article was first published on April 29, 2015.
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