KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said the Islamic State group is a “very real” threat to the country, hours after a video claiming to be from the militants’ regional wing warned of attacks in the Muslim-majority nation for arresting its supporters.
Police said the video, believed to feature operatives from the extremist group Katibah Nusantara speaking under the IS logo, was significant because, if confirmed, it was the first from the Islamic State in Malay.
“This threat is very real and my government takes it very seriously,” Najib told a conference on extremism. “This is a challenge that faces us all around the world. We are far from immune to this danger in Malaysia.”
Police said on Sunday they had arrested seven members of an Islamic State cell who were planning attacks across the country. The suspected militants — including one linked to Bahrom Naim, the alleged mastermind of the recent terrorist attacks in Indonesia — were carrying bullets, books on jihad, Islamic State flags and propaganda videos.
Katibah Nusantara is believed to be led by Naim, an Indonesian who police have said is pulling strings from Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Syria.
Ten days ago, Malaysia also arrested a suspected militant believed to have been planning a suicide attack in Kuala Lumpur.
The video that surfaced online warned Malaysia against the crackdown on Islamic State supporters and featured two Malaysians based in Syria, said Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, director of the police counterterrorism unit.
“They threatened to carry out an attack if police did not stop the arrests and release detainees immediately,” said Ayob, adding that the video showed militants in the country were becoming more organized.
“Perhaps they didn’t have a direct link with IS before, but now they do, so they can use the IS logo on their videos.”
The video could not be independently verified.
“If you catch us, we will only increase in number but if you let us be, we will be closer to our goal of bringing back the rule of the Khalifah (caliph),” said a message on the video, according to Malaysian newspaper the Star.
Security experts in the region believe the Islamic State group’s footprint is still light in Southeast Asia because militants are jostling to be its regional leader.
Like Indonesia, Malaysia is grappling with the rising influence of the Islamic State group, as scores from the countries have found their way into Syria and Iraq to fight for the extremists.
Authorities noted that at least 17 of them have died there, including six who perished in suicide bombing missions.
Since February 2013, the Malaysian police have arrested more than 150 suspected Islamic State followers.