KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian authorities have removed detainees suspected of supporting the Islamic State group (IS) from the general jail population after some were found preaching the extremist IS ideology to fellow inmates, the home minister said Thursday.
"They have been found to influence other criminals in joining the ideology," Zahid Hamidi told reporters, saying the IS suspects were being housed in dedicated cell blocks.
"These are hardcore people who want to go and fight in Iraq and Syria. We want to neutralise them." Authorities in Muslim-majority Malaysia have expressed increasing alarm as scores of the country's citizens have either gone abroad to join the IS jihad or been arrested for supporting the group or seeking to travel to Syria.
Zahid said 67 Malaysians are known to have gone to Syria and Iraq and that five had been killed fighting for the cause.
Malaysia was holding 120 people with suspected IS links or sympathies, including both men and women, said Zahid, who is in charge of domestic security.
Zahid was speaking to reporters after a meeting with Daniel Russel, the US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, who is on a brief visit.
Malaysia has traditionally observed a moderate brand of Islam and kept a lid on extremists.
But the IS ability to lure Malaysian Muslims, along with thousands of others worldwide, to join its bloody jihad has rattled authorities and brought new attention on increasingly conservative Muslim views in Malaysia as its long-ruling government's tight grip has eased somewhat over the years.
Malaysia plans to soon introduce a new anti-terrorism law to counter a potential IS-related security threat as fears grow that recruits may return home to spread militant Islam.