Terror plot against temples and churches thwarted, two Rohingyas among the suspects

The two Rohingya are aged 20 and 25. The younger one has a UN refugee card and is linked to Islamist rebels in Myanmar. The cell received orders from Syria. The terrorists wanted to avenge the death of an ethnic Malay Muslim firefighter. They were ready to go into action during the first week of Ramadan.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Malaysian authorities foiled a plot by the Islamic State (IS) group to attack Buddhist and Hindu temples as well as Christian churches.

Malaysian security forces carried out two operations in Kuala Lumpur and Terengganu, between 5 and 7 May, seizing an automatic pistol, 15 bullets and six improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

The would-be terrorists include a Malaysian, an Indonesian and two Rohingya, said Abdul Hamid Bador, Malaysia’s new chief of police, at a news conference held yesterday.

Abdul Hamid told reporters that the group received orders from a Malaysian militant based in Syria, but his identity has not yet been determined.

The man in Syria “instructed the cell members to launch the attack,” and the suspects had “been planning it since January,” noted the police chief. “They communicate via WhatsApp,” he added.

The four terrorists wanted to avenge the death of a Muslim firefighter, an ethnic Malay, who died last November during sectarian clashes at a Hindu temple in Subang Jaya (Selangor).

The cell was ready to go into action during the first week of Ramadan, which began on 6 May.

One of the Rohingya suspects in custody is a 20-year-old with a UN refugee card. He admitted to supporting the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), an Islamist insurgent group operating in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.

ARSA has been blamed for the initial violence that led to the exodus of 700,000 Myanmar Rohingya to neighbouring Bangladesh.

The 20-year-old “was also planning to launch an attack at the Myanmar Embassy in Kuala Lumpur,” Abdul Hamid said, adding that the second Rohingya suspect was a 25-year-old labourer who had admitted to being part of a local IS cell.

A predominantly Muslim nation, Malaysia is seen as a safe haven in Southeast Asia for Rohingya fleeing Myanmar.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the country has taken in at least 90,200 Rohingya, but some NGOs estimate the real number could be as high as 200,000.

Last year, Malaysian Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu expressed worry about the possibility of Rohingya expatriates turning to extremism.

“We are concerned that the Rohingyas could be manipulated to become suicide bombers or recruited into terrorist cells in this region,” he explained.

The radicalisation of the Rohingya began in the late 1970s after a first wave of refugees created a permanent problem.

Analysts warn that at present Rohingya refugees are being courted by Islamist groups in the Middle East and South Asia, something that turn crowded refugee camps on the border between Bangladesh and Myanmar into a source of instability for the region.