KUALA LUMPUR - An architect, a technician and a shopkeeper became the latest Malaysians to be detained as suspected militants just as the country made its firmest stand against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), designating it as a "terrorist organisation".
The three were about to board a flight to Turkey from where they would have found their way into Syria to join the ISIS.
But they were detained at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport by members of the Bukit Aman Special Branch Counter Terrorism Division at about 8.55am on Thursday.
On the same day, the United Nations Security Council approved a resolution calling on countries to help stem the flow of foreign militants to Iraq and Syria.
Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman, who was at the UN Security Council meeting in New York, said Malaysia would strengthen its laws and counter-terrorism capabilities.
Police said the architect was from Pahang and the technician from Perlis, and both are aged 26. The 42-year-old sundry shop owner is from Kelantan and is believed to be married with six children.
"Initial investigations revealed that the suspects were planning to board a flight to Istanbul, which transited in Doha," said Senior Asst Comm (SAC) Datuk Ayob Khan, principal assistant director of the Counter Terrorism Division.
"From Turkey, these men were planning to book a passage into Syria where they would join the Islamic State terror group."
He said that prior to the arrests, the police raided the homes of the suspects without their knowledge and discovered, among other evidence, an ISIS flag.
"We believe these men were recruited by Malaysian militants via social media sites, such as Facebook," SAC Ayob said. "The suspects were also in contact with other Malaysians fighting in Syria."
He said the police were closing in on the individual responsible for recruiting the men.
The arrests raise the number of Malaysian militants held by the Counter Terrorism Division to 22 in the country since April 28.
Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar commended the division on the arrests.
Police are now on the hunt for five militants believed to be linked to ISIS and the Abu Sayyaf, a terror group based in the Philippines.
Former lecturer Mahmud Ahmad (also known as Abu Handzalah) and another sundry shop owner, Mohd Najib Husen, both 36, are believed to be leaders of a local militant group that is training and sending members to fight in Syria and Iraq.
Sources said the authorities believed that the two men recruited and arranged for four Malaysians to be sent to Syria on March 5 this year, including Ahmad Tarmimi Maliki, the first Malaysian suicide bomber.
The third member being sought is former Selayang Municipal Council employee Muhammad Joraimee Awang Raimee, 39, also known as Abu Nur.
The two other wanted men are Darul Islam Sabah members Mohd Amin Baco, 31, and Jeknal Adil, 30, both from Tawau.
Sources revealed that both men had undergone training with the Abu Sayyaf in southern Philippines since 2005.
Khalid urged anyone with information to contact the nearest police station or the division at 03-2266 7010 or 011-2104 6850 or e-mail the police at CTD.E8M@gmail.com.