7 people linked to terrorist groups have been detained in Singapore and Malaysia – here’s what we know about them

A Syrian national flag flutters next to the Islamic State’s slogan at a roundabout where executions were carried out by ISIS militants in the city of Palmyra, in Homs Governorate, Syria in this April 1, 2016 file photo.

A total of seven people have been detained in Singapore and Malaysia for allegedly being involved with terrorism-related activities, authorities in both countries said on Friday (Feb 15).

Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said it detained two Singaporeans – Mohamed Kazali bin Salleh (Kazali) and Hazim Syahmi bin Mahfoot (Hazim) – under the Internal Security Act (ISA) in January.

Kazali was arrested in Malaysia by the Malaysian Special Branch (MSB) in December 2018, and handed over to the Internal Security Department (ISD) of Singapore on Jan 7. He was arrested and subsequently issued with an Order of Detention (OD) under the ISA.

Aside from Kazali, Malaysian authorities also detained two Malaysians and three other foreigners, a report by The Star said.

The detentions were made in Johor, Selangor and Sabah between Dec 19, 2018, and Jan 28 this year.

Quoting Inspector-General of Police Mohamad Fuzi Harun, The Star reported that the other foreigners include a 31-year-old Bangladeshi cleaner; a 21-year-old Filipino member of the Abu Sayyaf Group; and a 26-year-old South Asian who harboured a fellow countrymen listed under Interpol’s Red Notice.

According to The Star, the Filipino suspect was arrested in Kota Kinabalu after allegedly sneaking into the country in March last year.

“The suspect was an expert in an array of weapons, and he has connections to Abu Sayyaf leader Furiji Indama,” Mohamad Fuzi was quoted as saying.

What we know about the Singapore detainees

Kazali is a 48-year-old businessman based in Malaysia, and is believed to be a close associate of the most senior Malaysian ISIS fighter in Syria, a Malaysian named Wan Mohd Aquil bin Wan Zainal Abidin @ Akel Zainal (Akel).

Akel had previously been identified by the Malaysian authorities to be responsible for two recent ISIS-linked attack plots in Malaysia.

While he is a Singaporean, Kazali relocated to Malaysia with his family when he was a young child, and has worked in Johor Bahru for the last 10 years.

According to MHA, he first met Akel in 2009 and became strongly influenced by Akel’s radical views and conspiracy theories. He was convinced that Muslims are duty-bound to travel to Syria to fight against those who oppress Muslims.

Kazali is believed to have provided Akel with financial assistance for his trip to Syria in late 2013, and continued to help him when he was in Syria.

Akel kept Kazali updated on his exploits, and Kazali believed that the help he gave to Akel would guarantee him a place in paradise should Akel achieve martyrdom in Syria.

In a statement, MHA said Kazali became increasingly radicalised over time, and saw ISIS fighters as righteous individuals defending Muslims in Syria and around the world.

“At Akel’s urging, he took a bai’ah (pledge of allegiance) to ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, which was conveyed to Akel via social media,” MHA said. He also agreed to join Akel in Syria, but had not done so as he was not ready to leave his life behind, MHA said.

Instead, he shared news of Akel’s terrorism-related activities on social media to inspire others to travel to Syria. He was also prepared to facilitate anyone who wanted to undertake armed violence in Syria through Akel.

Although Kazali received instructions from Akel to carry out an attack against a Freemasons centre in Johor Bahru in December 2018, he did not follow through as he was afraid of getting caught, MHA added.

The other detainee, Hazim, 28, met Kazali in Singapore through business dealings in May last year.

“Hazim looked up to Kazali and was convinced by Kazali that he should undertake armed violence against the perceived enemies of his religion, specifically non-Muslims,” MHA said.

The freelance car exporter also took a bai’ah to remain loyal and obedient to Kazali, even if it meant having to attack and kill others.

Hazim was arrested in Singapore and also issued with an OD in January.

“These cases highlight the dangers of radicalisation of Singaporeans overseas, and the potential impact within Singapore. The threat of extremism is one which does not respect national borders,” MHA said in its statement.

So far, it is unclear what activities the two Malaysian detainees were involved in.

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