KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's police said on Saturday that it had arrested five people, including a European employed as a teacher, on suspicion of links with militant groups like the Islamic State and al-Qaeda.
Malaysia is on heightened alert after reports on Friday that ten Syrians linked to Islamic State entered neighbouring Thailand in October to attack Russian interests.
Police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said in a statement that four of those arrested were foreign nationals and one was a Malaysian. The arrests were made between Nov. 17 and Dec. 1.
Among them was a 44-year-old European who was employed as a temporary teacher in the state of Penang, and had links with al-Qaeda and allegedly participated in militant activities in Afghanistan and Bosnia, the police said.
Three other suspects - a 31-year-old Indonesian man, a Malaysian and a Bangladeshi - were part of a cell linked to the Islamic State (IS) group and are were tasked with recruiting volunteers to take part in militant activities overseas.
The leader of the cell was the Indonesian who is said to have vowed allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi through Facebook in 2014.
"He, along with the Malaysian national, is suspected of acting as facilitator to organise individuals from Malaysia and some Southeast Asian countries to join the Islamic State in Syria," said Khalid.
Southeast Asia faces the threat of Islamic State-inspired attacks designed to "glamorise terrorism", a Malaysian minister said last month, voicing fears of battle-hardened fighters returning from Syria to launch Paris-style attacks.
In September, Malaysian police thwarted a plot to detonate bombs in Kuala Lumpur's vibrant tourist area of Bukit Bintang.