KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Malaysian police said Saturday that eight suspected militants, including seven foreigners, have been arrested for allegedly spreading religious extremism that could threaten national security and fan terrorism in the region.
National police chief Mohamad Fuzi Harun said the suspects are connected with an Islamic religious school in Yemen that promotes the Salafi Jihadi teachings, which permit the killings of non-Muslims as well as Muslims who don't follow their ways and denounce democracy as un-Islamic.
He said the foreigners, aged between 24 and 38, include five people from a country in Europe, one from the Americas and one from the Middle East.
Fuzi said the Sept. 24 arrests came after police received intelligence about attempts by a Yemen-based terror group to set up a school in Southeast Asia to promote the Salafi Jihadi ideology, which is shared by groups including the Islamic State.
He said all eight are linked to an Islamic learning center in northern Perlis state that has ties with the Yemen school, but didn't give details of the Malaysian center. He said initial investigations showed the eight rejected democracy and have extreme beliefs.
Six of them, students of the Perlis center, were detained in the state and believed to have ties with either the Islamic State terror group or extremist cells in their country, Fuzi said. The Middle Eastern man, a former teacher at the Perlis center, was picked up in Kuala Lumpur for conducting unlawful Islamic classes to spread Salafi Jihadi teachings, he said.
A Malaysian businessman, a former student of the Perlis center who wants to promote Islamic rule in Malaysia, was held in southern Johor state, he said.
Fuzi said this wasn't the first time that suspected militants have tried to spread Salafi Jihadi teachings in Malaysia. In 1985, two leaders of the Jemaah Islamiyah radical group set up schools in two Malaysian states to promote the Salafi Jihadi ideology and recruit new members but authorities managed to put a stop to it, he said.
Malaysia has been battling to curb the influence of militant cells linked to the Islamic State. Many of its citizens have made their way to the Middle East to fight with the Islamic State group in recent years, often passing through Turkey. Hundreds of people suspected of having ties to IS have been detained in Malaysia in the past few years.