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Terror threat seen to linger

SECURITY experts should continue to gather in-depth data and seriously assess the threat of terrorism in the country after  the jihadist attack in Jakarta on Thursday and the arrest of four militants in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday, according to a former police intelligence official.

Former police general Rodolfo Mendoza, one of the officials who busted the Bojinka plot to assassinate the pope and crash airplanes into skyscrapers in 1995, said the authorities should step up data gathering and assessment instead of belittling information.

“There must be a continuing process of overt investigation and data gathering in order to determine and approximate the threat of terrorism in the country,” Mendoza said, a day after President Benigno Aquino III again belittled reports of jihadist threats in the Philippines.

“Several Malaysian and Indonesian jihadist already have a physical presence in Mindanao to integrate and consolidate their vision of an Islamic caliphate in this part of the world,” said Mendoza, who now heads his own security think tank Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research.

ISIS AGENTS. File photo shows supposed Abu Sayyaf members pledging allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in a video posted on YouTube. AFP

In fact, Mendoza said, the military have already killed Indonesian bomb maker Sucipto Ibrahim Ali in November and Malaysian bomb maker Mohamad Najib Husen in December.

Both bomb experts are associates of Dr. Mahmud Ahmad, a lecturer at Universiti Malaya’s Islamic Studies faculty who is also known as “Abu Handzalah,” who fled Malaysian authorities who were out to arrest him and sought refuge with the Abu Sayyaf group.

Aside from Ahmad and Husen, Mendoza said the Abu Sayyaf are also believed to be harboring Muhammad Joraimee Awang Raimee, a former employee of the Selayang Municipal Council in Selangor. 

The three men belong to an Islamist group in Malaysia linked to an ISIS cell, known as Darul Islam Sabah, and even Malaysia police inspector-general Khalid Abu Bakar confirmed that the three men recruited militants for training in Perak in 2013.

Malaysian authorities said the trio also sent militants to Syria and Iraq as part of the ISIS struggle, Mendoza said. 

“I would recommend that Malaysian, Indonesian and Philippine security organization to cooperate cohesively in analyzing the supposed attempt by ISIS to establish a caliphate in Southeast Asia and to respond to the terror group,” Mendoza said.

“You cannot assess or analyze information without looking back or reviewing information. If you fail to evaluate an information and you cannot analyze it, that’s not intelligence reports. Information is not an intelligence report,” he stressed. 

Mendoza made the remarks before Malaysian authorities announced that they have arrested four suspected militants and confiscated a weapon along with Islamic State documents, national police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said Saturday in Kuala Lumpur.

Security forces have been on high alert in the predominantly-Muslim country in the wake of deadly coordinated attacks in neighboring Indonesia earlier this week that were claimed by IS. Seven people, including five assailants, were killed during the incident.

“Congratulations E8 CK [anti-terror unit] for arresting one male suspect on Friday at a train station…. Weapon and IS documents were confiscated [from the suspect]” the police chief said on his Twitter account.

The train station is located near the iconic Petronas Towers in the heart of the capital Kuala Lumpur and houses a huge shopping mall frequented by foreigners.

The country’s counter-terrorism assistant director Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay later confirmed to Agence France Presse that a knife and IS documents were confiscated at the suspect’s house.

In a statement, Khalid said the 28-year-old Malaysian admitted that he was planning to be a suicide bomber.

“The suspect admitted that he had planned a suicide attack in Malaysia and was awaiting instructions from a member of IS in Syria,” he said.

The police chief added that on Jan. 11, three Malaysian IS suspects were arrested by security forces after being deported from Turkey.

“They were first detained in Turkey while attempting to sneak into Syria to join IS fighters,” Khalid said. 

Earlier this week, local media reported that a 16-year-old boy clad in militant attire held a woman at knife-point at a supermarket in northwestern Malaysia.

“Investigations revealed that he was influenced by the IS movement through social media and wanted to prove that he was capable of such acts by threatening the woman,” Khalid said.

The teenager was later arrested and is being held in police custody.

Muslim-majority Malaysia practices a moderate brand of Islam and has not seen any notable terror attacks in recent years.

But concern has risen in the multi-faith nation over growing hardline Islamic views and the country’s potential as a militant breeding ground.

Authorities say dozens of Malaysians have traveled to Syria to fight for the radical IS group and warn they may seek to return home and import its ideology.

Since 2015, police have arrested numerous suspects whom they say were IS sympathizers plotting attacks. Opposition lawmakers, however, say the terror arrests have been shrouded in secrecy, making it difficult to gauge the actual threat level. 

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