KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysian police said on Monday they had arrested four people, among them three foreigners, with links to an Islamic State cell based out of the southern Philippines.
Muslim-majority Malaysia has been on high alert since an attack last January by Islamic State-linked militants in Jakarta, the capital of neighboring Indonesia.
The cell, operating out of the province of Mindanao, was led by a former university lecturer, Mahmud Ahmad, who is known to be a Malaysian member of Islamic State, Malaysian Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar said in a statement.
The cell had planned to use the east Malaysian state of Sabah as a transit point for South Asian and Southeast Asian militant recruits looking to join Islamic State in the Philippines, Khalid said.
He said one of the arrested suspects, a Philippine man, had been instructed to recruit new followers from Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia, as well as Rohingya Muslims from Burma, and arrange for their travel to Mindanao.
The suspect, a watch-seller, was arrested in Sabah along with a Malaysian woman who was planning to marry and travel with him to the Philippines, Khalid said.
Police also arrested two Bangladeshi men in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, who had allegedly been recruited by the Philippine suspect.
“The two are suspected of having links with Daesh groups in Bangladesh,” Khalid said, using another name for Islamic State.
Khalid said Mahmud’s cell had joined up with the Philippine militant group, Abu Sayyaf, and pledged its allegiance to the group’s leader and the country’s most-wanted man, Isnilon Hapilon.
Last June, militants who claimed to be fighting for Islamic State said in a video they had chosen Isnilon to lead the group’s Southeast Asian faction.
The video, posted on social media, marked Islamic State’s acceptance of allegiance by Southeast Asian supporters and called for them to launch attacks in the region.
Malaysia has arrested more than 250 people between 2013 and 2016 over militant activities linked to the Islamic State.