KUALA LUMPUR – Suspected Malaysian militants loyal to the extremist Islamic State movement bought bomb-making material ahead of a proposed attack on a Carlsberg brewery near the capital, Kuala Lumpur, a top anti-terrorism official said.
The plan, which the official said was at a “discussion” stage, would be the first time Southeast Asian militants inspired by Islamic State’s rise have sought to launch a major attack at home, adding to officials’ fears of a domestic “blowback” from the group’s expansion in Syria and Iraq.
Ayob Khan Mydin, the police counterterrorism division’s deputy chief, told reporters that the group of 19 suspected militants had obtained quantities of aluminum powder — often used as an ingredient in bombs.
“In terms of ideology and intention, it was very clear,” Ayob Khan said in an interview. “It would have been carried out.”
The group, seven of whom have been charged under anti-terrorism and weapons laws, had discussed bombing the Danish beer-maker’s factory in Petaling Jaya on the outskirts of the capital, as well as other targets such as pubs, Ayob Khan said.
Carlsberg Brewery Malaysia said in a response that it had taken “necessary steps to ensure security at our premises, as employee safety is a priority.”
Ayob Khan said that 12 of the suspects had to be released due to lack of evidence tying them to specific plans for an attack or an attempt to join the banned Islamic State.
The militant group’s sweep through northern Iraq — bringing it close to Baghdad and in control of the second-largest city, Mosul — has energized radical Muslims in Malaysia and Indonesia, partly due to teachings that describe a “final battle” taking place in the greater Syrian region.
Security officials estimate that at least 20 Malaysians and up to 500 Indonesians have gone to fight in Syria and Iraq.
Indonesia’s government this month banned support for the Islamic State and warned its citizens not to join their fight in the Middle East, according to media reports.
“Our information is that thousands of people have pledged loyalty,” Sri Yunanto, of Indonesia’s National Counter Terrorism Agency, said last week.
Officials believe a 26-year-old Malaysian national, factory worker Ahmad Tarmimi, carried out a suicide attack at a police station in Iraq in May.
Despite the arrests, the group’s Malaysian supporters have continued to send followers to Syria, said Ayob Khan.
“We are very sure that if we allow them to go to Syria they will come back with the expertise and experience. Their ideology will be stronger than ever,” he said.
Ayob Khan, who has worked in counterterrorism since the early 1990s, said Islamic State sympathizers were attracting a small number of Malaysians from a wide variety of backgrounds via recruiting on social media, particularly Facebook, which they also used to raise funds.