Nine foreigners and a Malaysian arrested for alleged terrorist activity planned to blow up two places of worship because they felt the government was not doing enough to uphold Islam, a newspaper reported yesterday.
The report in the New Straits Times raises concerns that Islamic extremists may be trying to establish roots in this Muslim-majority country that has been almost entirely free of terrorist violence.
Malaysia’s success in keeping extremism at bay has been attributed to its highly efficient police intelligence force and a population that largely believes in moderate Islam even though some Malaysians have joined the Jemaah Islamiyah, a regional terror group linked to al-Qaeda.
A police spokesman said he could not comment on the report as he was not privy to such information. Other police officials could not immediately be reached. National police chief Musa Hassan refused to talk when contacted.
Among the 10 people arrested in January was the plot leader, Aiman al-Dakkak, a Syrian university lecturer, who held weekly Islamic classes at a home near Kuala Lumpur. The newspaper said the 45-year-old al-Dakkak was seeking to recruit members for al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah.
The arrests were made public earlier this year, but the Times report reveals details of their alleged activities for the first time.
Activists say the 10 were arrested in January with about 40 others while attending al-Dakkak’s class. The Times said all nine foreigners — four Syrians including al-Dakkak, two Yemenis, two Nigerians and a Jordanian — were deported in April and were detained by their governments.
All others were freed except the Malaysian, a 39-year-old religious teacher, who is under “restricted residence,” meaning he can’t leave his district and has to report to police regularly. He was believed to have financed the group with money he earned from religious lectures, the Times said, quoting unidentified police sources.
The Times quoted its sources as saying that the 10 men targeted the places of worship in northern Penang and central Selangor states. They felt the government was not doing enough to uphold Islam in Malaysia, it said.
The report did not specify what kind of places of worship were targeted. About a third of Malaysians are ethnic Chinese and Indians, who mainly practice Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism.
About 60 percent of the country’s 28 million people are Muslims.
The newspaper said most of the nine foreigners were students at universities there. They came from various backgrounds. Some of their parents are professors, doctors, ambassadors, police officers and lecturers.
They entered Malaysia using student visas and some were sponsored by their governments. Among the courses they registered for were English, Shariah Law, engineering and mass communications, the Times said.
Al-Dakkak, who entered Malaysia on a student visa in 2003, had met al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden several times, the newspaper said, citing intelligence reports.
“Aiman [al-Dakkak] wanted to set up a base here in Malaysia as the country’s geographical location was ideal, and the people here were generally friendly and unsuspecting in nature,” the Times quoted a source as saying.
Two of al-Dakkak’s students have said he did not advocate terrorism. Al-Dakkak studied in Pakistan as a teenager and worked at a Karachi university before moving to Malaysia, his student Muhamad Yunus Zainal Abidin said.