Manhunt for Islamic State suspects in Asia
Malaysian police are hunting three Malaysians and one Thai national who are believed to be members of an Islamic State cell and accused of planning attacks and murdering police officers.
The manhunt comes amid growing concern about the return of foreign fighters after the collapse of Islamic State in the Middle East and continuing Islamic State linked attacks in The Philippines.
Malaysia’s police chief Mohamad Fuzi Harun this week said four members of a cell remained on the run, were “dangerous” and “capable of launching attacks that could pose a threat to national security”.
Asked about recent events, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Australia was concerned about the rise of “extremist networks” in the region.
“The Australian government is concerned that experienced and motivated foreign fighters could be returning from conflicts in Syria and Iraq, to join extremist networks in our region,’’ she said.
“To combat this threat, at the recent ASEAN-Australia summit, we signed a memorandum of understanding with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to confront violent extremism and defeat terrorist organisations.”
The emergence of a Thai national suspect is notable as Thai authorities have talked down the possibility that the continuing conflict along their Malaysian border was being exploited by Islamic State.
Malaysian police said the man, Awae Wae-Eya, was from Narathiwat province in southern Thailand.
Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha last year said he had no information suggesting Islamic State members were active in southern Thailand, and a recent International Crisis Group report said there was no evidence jihadists were “making inroads among the separatists”.
Southeast Asian news outlet BenarNews reported that four men were believed to be hiding in southern Thailand and quoted Malaysian counter-terrorism analyst Ahmad El-Muhammady as saying the events should be a warning for Thai authorities.
“They have to start curbing this problem … before it blows from just several individual IS operatives into a full-fledged network that threatens national and regional security,” he said.