KUALA LUMPUR - A red alert has been raised in Sabah following an open declaration of support for the Islamic State (IS) movement by Isnilon Hapilon - one of the most wanted terrorists with up to RM16mil (S$6.3 million) bounty on his head.
The 48-year-old Abu Sayyaf leader, along with masked men, posted a video of themselves on YouTube in July but intelligence sources said it gained momentum on social media last month.
Sources said pro-IS and jihadist websites in Bahasa Malaysia were being watched following this new development.
In the video, which appeared to be shot in the jungles of southern Philippines, the IS movement's symbolic black flag is depicted in the opening scene.
In the six-minute clip, Hapilon is seen wearing a black gown, linking his arms with his men, some of whom wore masks.
Speaking mostly in Arabic and in his native dialect of Yakan, they swore allegiance to IS and its head Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in the form of baiah or oath of loyalty.
The video clip provided security agencies with the most updated photograph of Isnilon, who appears to have gained weight after previous photographs showed him to be a much thinner person with reports that he had suffered a stroke at one point.
It is believed that the video was meant to inspire support for the IS movement, especially in South-East Asia.
The video was soon followed by Jemaah Islamiah (JI) spritual leader and founder of its reincarnation, Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT), Abu Bakar Baasyir calling on his followers to join IS.
It is learnt that Abu Bakar had gathered high-ranking JAT leaders and family members at the Pasir Putih prison in Indonesia before ordering them to support the IS.
Wanted by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation as well as security agencies in Malaysia, Isnilon is said to be responsible for a raid on Pom Pom island in Semporna on Nov 15, 2013.
"He and his men are dangerous and their main business is kidnapping, which is carried out to finance their terror activities.
"He and his men have beheaded an American kidnap victim," said a regional intelligence analyst.
In 2000, Abu Sayyaf guerillas occupied the Sipidan dive resort and took 21 hostages, including 10 tourists and 11 resort workers.
The Malaysian intelligence's concern is that Isnilon and his men can easily travel into neighbouring Sabah from their base.
"The situation in Iraq and Syria, where IS is operating, seems to have given a fresh impetus to Isnilon. There are very good reasons for Malaysia to put out the red alert for this terrorist given the long coastline," he said.
Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar said Bukit Aman would tighten security to prevent the spread of the IS movement in Malaysia.
"We are keeping close tabs on the development of such radical groups in neighbouring countries. We will step up security along our borders to prevent any of these elements from slipping in," he said.
Such extremist groups, warned Khalid, were dangerous, adding that their pledges to IS were bound to generate more following for the terror group.
"We will not allow extremists to gain a foothold in Malaysia," he said, adding that police were cooperating with their counterparts in other countries to boost intelligence gathering.