Malaysian counter-terrorism police on Tuesday announced the arrests of two Rohingya men who they said supported a Myanmar insurgent group, including one who allegedly posted a video online calling for the assassination of Bangladesh’s leader.
Two other foreigners, a Filipino and an Indian national, were taken into custody separately for suspected links with insurgent groups as well, Police Inspector-General Abdul Hamid Bador said in a statement. The four suspects, whose names police did not reveal, were captured in various locations in Kedah and Selangor states between June 14 and July 3.
“A 41-year-old Rohingya who worked as a laborer at the Sungai Petani district of Kedah was arrested on June 24. He is a supporter of insurgent group Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army [ARSA] and was arrested for posting a death threat video against Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed on his Facebook page,” Abdul Hamid said.
Malaysian police would not treat the alleged threat against Hasina lightly, a source close to the investigation told BenarNews.
“We are investigating the case. We cannot reveal more at the moment,” the source said, adding, “this is still serious.”
Background checks revealed that the Rohingya suspect had a criminal history, Abdul Hamid said.
“He had been detained three times prior to the latest arrest. First in 1997 for illegally entering Malaysia, then in 2012 for possessing fake travel documents and last in 2015 for being involved in human trafficking activity,” the police chief said in the statement without going into detail about the cases.
Abdul Hamid said counter-terrorist police also arrested a Rohingya who worked as a teacher.
“The 25-year-old man who worked at a religious school in Bukit Pinang in Kedah was detained on July 3 for being an ARSA supporter,” he said, adding that police were investigating to determine if the two men were connected.
Authorities in Myanmar have blamed ARSA rebels for launching deadly raids on police and military outposts in Rakhine State that provoked a brutal crackdown on the country’s stateless Rohingya Muslim minority in August 2017. In turn, that caused more than 740,000 Rohingya to flee and seek shelter at refugee camps in neighboring Bangladesh, a majority-Islamic country.
Malaysian police did not release details about how the pair of Rohingya suspects entered Malaysia or if they were there legally.
In May, two Rohingya were among four suspects who were apprehended when police foiled an Islamic State (IS) plot to attack worship sites and assassinate “high-profile personalities” during Ramadan. Those arrests were the first involving linked to alleged terrorist activities in Malaysia.
The predominantly Muslim country has been seen a safe haven in Southeast Asia for Rohingya fleeing from persecution in Buddhist majority Myanmar and violence in Rakhine state. At least 90,200 Rohingya live in Malaysia, according to UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency.
Last year, Malaysian Defense Minister Mohamad Sabu warned about a potential security problem with Rohingya expatriates.
“We are concerned that the Rohingyas could be manipulated to become suicide bombers or recruited into terrorist cells in this region,” he told a Kuala Lumpur meeting of counterterrorist security professionals in August 2018.
Apart from the Rohingya, police in Selangor arrested a 54-year-old Filipino man on June 14.
“The suspect was arrested for allegedly having ties with the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and also for assisting kidnap for ransom cases in the waters of Sabah,” Abdul Hamid said. “The suspect has been listed as a wanted person by the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM) and was living in Malaysia using a falsified identification document.”
On June 21, police in Ampang, Selangor, arrested a 24-year-old Indian national who worked as an elevator maintenance technician.
“The suspect is believed to have acted as a facilitator to senior members of the Babbar Khalsa International terror group who entered Malaysia in November 2018 and last month,” Abdul Hamid said. “Besides, the suspect also channeled 7,600 ringgit (U.S. $1,830) to fund BKI’s activities in Southeast Asia.”
BKI is a Sikh militant group, which gained notoriety in the 1980s for the bombing of an Air India flight that killed 330 people.
The four suspects have been detained and are being investigated under the Security Offenses (Special Measures) Act 2012, according to the Malaysian police chief.
Prior to the latest publicized arrests, 33 suspected terrorists were arrested in Malaysia since Jan. 1. Of those, 10 have been charged, nine were released, six were deported and one was referred to a foreign agency. Seven remain in custody but have not been charged.