KUALALUMPUR (Reuters) – A Malaysian minister warned on Wednesday that the Islamic State militant group may shift its base of operations to Southeast Asia after the death of its leader, according to a media report.
Authorities in the region have said it will be a long battle to thwart the jihadist group’s ideology, even after Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi killed himself by detonating a suicide vest during a raid by U.S. special forces in northwest Syria in October.
Malaysia will remain on guard against threats posed by fighters returning from abroad, online radicalisation and possible lone-wolf attacks, home minister Muhyiddin Yassin said at a meeting of ministers from members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Bangkok.
“We believe that al-Baghdadi’s death will open up another chapter in Daesh’s terror operation. After losing much of its territory in Syria and Iraq, Daesh is also looking for a new base,” Muhyiddin was quoted as saying by Malaysian news agency Bernama.
Daesh is the Arabic-language acronym for Islamic State and the name Malaysia commonly uses to refer to the group.
Muhyiddin, whose ministry oversees the police force, said Malaysia had foiled 25 planned attacks by Islamic State in the country and arrested 512 people with suspected links to the group over the past six years.
Malaysia has been on high alert since January 2016, when gunmen allied with Islamic State carried out a series of attacks in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta.
Islamic State also claimed responsibility for a grenade attack on a bar in the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur in June 2016 that wounded eight people. It was the first such strike on Malaysian soil.
(Reporting by Joseph Sipalan; Editing by Paul Tait)