5 al-Shabab members detected in Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR - Despite the arrest of a senior operative of the Somalia-based al-Shabab group in Selangor, the government's threat assessment of the al-Qaeda-linked outfit is that it has an "unsuccessful footing" in the country, and it has neither set up training camps nor carried out terror missions.

However, a major concern is that intelligence agencies have detected at least another five al-Shabab members, who had entered Malaysia under the guise of furthering their studies.

Intelligence and security agencies were on high alert, tracking down the five suspects and determining their real motive for being in the country, a source told the New Straits Times.

However, the cell group has yet to enforce its ideology, primarily because of its small membership, a number of whom had entered Malaysia using student and social visit passes. Some of them have even married local women.

In Taiping, Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, in outlining the threat assessment, said: "We will sniff them out and investigate every one of them.

"We will ensure that Malaysia does not serve as a training 'nest' for any militant group.

"As I have said before, Malaysia is free from these terrorists, but we will not compromise any form of militancy.

"The authorities will go all out to track down each and every member of the group."

Zahid, who was speaking to reporters after inspecting the Kamunting Correctional Centre here yesterday, was commenting on the arrest of the suspect in a special operation on Thursday.

The 34-year-old East African man is high on Interpol's Red Notice wanted list for alleged terrorism-related activities.

Al-Shabab had linked itself to al-Qaeda in 2012 as a cell group.

However, the arrest is unrelated to the Counter-Terrorism Unit's (CTU) detention of 11 local suspects to assist investigations into their alleged associations with terrorism-linked activities.

Congratulating Bukit Aman's federal CTU over the arrest, Zahid said as a follow-up to it, police had been instructed to carry out further surveillance on the group.

"We are looking for other members, who are in hiding.

"Interrogation is ongoing. More information is being gathered."

The suspect, identified as a key member of al-Shabab and placed on Interpol's wanted list for alleged involvement in militant activities in East Africa, was found to not be in possession of any weapons after he was detained by CTU in the operation, which was carried out in an undisclosed location.

Following surveillance and intelligence gathering, investigators are looking into the possibility of a terror strike on Malaysian soil.

Deputy Inspector-General of Police Datuk Seri Mohd Bakri Zinin said the suspect was alleged to have committed an offence under Chapter VI A (terrorism-related offences) of the Penal Code and would be investigated under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012.

The source said the suspect had claimed that he was in the country to further his studies.

While the arrested suspect's movements and links are being investigated, the authorities do not have strong evidence to charge the other five suspects in court.

The source said several suspected members of al-Shabab had left Malaysia recently, adding that those who were still in the country were being closely monitored.

It is suspected that more members might be arriving in the country soon.

"In the past, terror suspects were easily detained under the Internal Security Act," said the source.

"But after the law was repealed, the most that intelligence agencies can do is put (suspects) under close surveillance."