Malaysia’s top policeman yesterday said that 17 people, including two who recently returned from Syria, had been arrested on suspicion of plotting terror attacks in the capital, Kuala Lumpur.
Authorities in the Muslim-majority country have expressed increasing alarm over the threat of Muslim militancy in the wake of the Islamic State (IS) group’s bloody jihad in Syria and Iraq.
“Seventeen people were planning terror activities in Kuala Lumpur. Two of them had recently returned from Syria,” national police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said in a Twitter post.
Khalid said the arrests took place on Sunday.
No other details, including the suspects’ nationalities or specifics of the alleged plot, were mentioned.
The tough-talking Khalid was also quoted by local media saying he “will never allow Malaysia to be a transit point or hideout for any terror groups.”
The government has increasingly warned that Malaysian recruits to the cause of the Islamic State, previously known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, could return home with the group’s radical ideology.
Police in January said they had arrested a total of 120 people with suspected IS group links or sympathies, or who had sought to travel to Syria or Iraq.
They also said 67 Malaysians were known at the time to have gone abroad to join the IS, and that five had died fighting for the movement.
Last week, the government introduced a new anti-terrorism bill to counter any potential threat. The bill allows authorities to detain terrorism suspects for potentially unlimited periods without trial, according to its critics.
The political opposition, legal organizations, Human Rights Watch and others have urged the government to withdraw the proposed new law, calling it oppressive.
The law “would reintroduce indefinite detention without trial or judicial review and violate due process rights in the name of preventing terrorism,” Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said in a statement.
The subject of security laws is controversial in Malaysia, whose government is frequently accused of using them to silence political opponents.
A previous draconian internal security law that allowed detention without trial — and was repeatedly used against opposition politicians — was scrapped in 2012 amid public pressure for political reform.
In August last year, police said they had foiled an IS-inspired plot to bomb pubs, discos and a Malaysian brewery of Danish beer producer Carlsberg, arresting more than a dozen people.
A string of other suspected IS-related arrests have been announced since then.
However, the opposition says the authoritarian regime has shared no details of its claimed arrests, nor did it consult the opposition on the anti-terror legislation.
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