PETALING JAYA - They were "fresh" but eager to be militants after being recruited via Facebook just three months ago.
Three would-be Malaysian militants, arrested at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Thursday, were enlisted into the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror group by a senior Malaysian militant who used Facebook to lure members.
The architect and a technician, both 26, and a 42-year-old shopkeeper were part of a wider network, all of whom joined ISIS to achieve martyrdom.
"The police have already identified the recruiter. The suspects are considered still 'fresh' but willing to join ISIS in their false jihad," a source said in an interview yesterday.
Police believed the suspects were in contact with other Malaysian fighters in Syria.
It is believed the three had met in Klang along with their "handler" several times to plan their impending trip to Syria.
"Police are investigating if the suspects had any plans against Malaysian targets but, so far, there is no such indication," said the source, adding that the meetings were held at the architect's house in Klang.
The suspects would use different modes of transport and routes to get to the Klang home each time to avoid detection.
Soon after the three were arrested, officers from the Bukit Aman Special Branch Counter Terrorism Division brought the men to their homes - in Klang, Kota Baru and Arau - where further investigations were carried out.
"Police seized an ISIS flag and several computers belonging to the suspects. Interviews with their family members showed that they did not know of the suspects' activities.
"There was, however, a family which consented to it as they believed he would be fighting in a holy war," the source added.
Bukit Aman has been on high alert for Malaysians planning to join ISIS, especially after the United Nations Security Council approved a resolution calling on countries to stem the flow of foreign militants to Iraq and Syria.
The recent pledges of allegiance to ISIS by regional terror groups Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT) have also led to heightened security at the country's entry and exit points.
Sources said the Malaysian links to foreign groups in neighbouring countries were "quite real" as there were five wanted Malaysian militants who received training by Abu Sayyaf and were believed to have fled to southern Philippines, a known Abu Sayyaf stronghold.
"Police are investigating if the three suspects had had any weapons training in the country or with Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines. So far, police believe the suspects are not linked to terror groups based in Sabah or Sarawak, including Darul Islam Sabah," the source said.
Concerns are also mounting that the region's most wanted terrorist Zulkifli Abdul Khir, also known as Marwan, was last known to be hiding in Mindanao.
"Intelligence reports indicate that Marwan has close ties with the Abu Sayyaf. Police believe he is even teaching Abu Sayyaf personnel how to make bombs," the source said.
Counter-terrorism authorities are trying to determine how much influence Marwan had on 22 militants arrested in various states since April 28 and the five on the wanted list now.
Marwan has a RM16 million (S$6.23 million) bounty on his head issued by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar said all suspects were detained under the Special Offences (Security Measures) Act 2012.
"We will continue to take action against any Malaysian who plans to join ISIS in Syria. We also ask the public to be wary of the activities of their family members, especially the youth," he said in a statement.
Tan Sri Khalid urged anyone with information to contact the police via phone or e-mail at CTD.E8M@gmail.com