A young factory worker from Pahang with links to the radical Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is believed to have become Malaysia's first suicide bomber.
Ahmad Tarmimi Maliki, 26, drove a military SUV filled with explosives into Iraq's Swat headquarters in al-Anbar on May 26, according to local media reports, blowing up and killing 25 soldiers and himself. He had reportedly been trained by militants in Port Dickson, Negeri Sembilan, last year before travelling to Iraq.
The news comes after a recent crackdown on militant activities in Malaysia. Police said last Friday they had nabbed three men, including a senior leader trained by the extremist group Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines who had planned to go "somewhere else" to fight.
In April, police arrested 11 people who had planned to send fighters to Syria posing as humanitarian workers. Malaysia has also charged four of its citizens - three men and a housewife - with promoting terrorism in Syria.
And two Malaysians suspected of having ties to Al-Qaeda have been charged in Lebanon with trying to enter Syria for suicide attacks.
Ahmad Tarmimi's elder sister Halimah, 34, who lives in a Pahang village, told the Utusan Malaysia newspaper that the family only learnt of his activities after friends shared news of his death on Facebook after the bombing.
"He had been living and working in Selangor since 2012 and did not act in an unusual manner when he returned to the village, except that he liked to be alone, and was secretive," she said.
The last time the family saw Ahmad Tarmimi in their village, in March, he told them he was going to West Asia to study religion.
Her husband Rozman, 38, said the family were worried for their own safety. He said he had raised Ahmad Tarmimi from the time he was nine, when his parents died.
The Utusan also reported that a former detainee, who did not want to be identified, confirmed that Ahmad Tarmimi had undergone militant training with him and nine others at Port Dickson.
Professor Rohan Gunaratna of Singapore's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies said more than 100 South-east Asians, mostly from Indonesia and Malaysia, have travelled to fight in Syria and Iraq. The rest are from southern Thailand, the Philippines, and even a few from Singapore.
They were recruited by the ISIL and al-Nusra groups. "These are two of the most capable terrorist groups today, and both have networks actively recruiting from this region," he said.
Their activities in South-east Asia, exposed by a number of disillusioned recruits who have returned home, reveal them to be significant threats, he added.
He said a regional multi-agency effort was needed to arrest them, seize their assets and disrupt their support network. More also had to be done to counter their propaganda and fund-raising activities, and screen humanitarian workers as many fighters travel under this guise. He believed a few dozen Malaysians had already gone to Syria.
This article was first published on June 15, 2014.
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