PETALING JAYA: Some Malaysians are believed to be members of a pro-Islamic State (IS) Telegram channel developed by one of the two jihadists who were killed after torching a police station in West Sumatra, Indonesia, on Sunday.
Eka Fitra Akbar and Engria Sudarmaji were shot dead by police after the IS-inspired fighters fired arrows at the officers following the burning of the police facility.
The channel, called Daulah Islamiyah Baqiyyah (DIB), which is in Indonesian, was set up with membership extending to the Philippines, an expert from a terrorism research consortium said.
“The DIB is one of the most active IS-inspired channels on Telegram in Indonesia,” Veryan Khan, editorial director of the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC), told FMT.
“It’s a private-label IS media outlet that seems to be only for Indonesian speakers, yet we see people from the Philippines in this and other Indonesian channels, so I suspect there are Malaysians too.”
According to a statement of responsibility for the arson issued by the DIB, which TRAC supplied to FMT, Eka had actively assisted in the development of the channel.
The 24-year-old son of a policeman frequently gave suggestions and donations to the DIB.
He also bought merchandise sold by the pro-IS media outlet, the statement said.
“Eka donated and purchased merchandise sold by the DIB,” said Khan.
“According to the statement of responsibility, the two arsonists were part of the reason media operations in Indonesia have become so robust.
“Their deaths will not impact the new media efforts of the Indonesian IS media house.”
The burning of the Indonesian police station and subsequent attacks on security personnel using arrows appeared to have been a prepared act.
TRAC shared on Twitter an image posted in an Indonesian IS channel showing the black IS flag, arrows and a bow hanging on a wall, as well as a photo of an Indonesian supporter practising archery, which was taken in July.
The consortium said on Twitter that the importance of the arson attack could not be overstated, and that the claim of responsibility and operation of DIB meant an ever-growing and organised cell structure and independent IS media matrix in Indonesia.
FMT earlier reported that some Malaysians were also believed to be members of a Telegram channel consisting of some 120 pro-IS militants in central Maguindanao, southern Philippines.
TRAC, which monitors hundreds of IS-linked communication and recruitment channels, said it had detected chatter about the group at least two weeks before the end of the five-month siege on Marawi city.
“There is a lot going on in central Maguindanao where foreign fighters and locals are meeting up under one banner,” Khan had said.
“There was a count of at least 120 fighters grouped together, including Malaysians.
“So, one thing that is really interesting about the Philippines is that Marawi is not the only game in town.”
During the heyday of the terror group in Iraq and Syria, a unit called Katibah Nusantara was created, consisting of citizens from countries in the Malay archipelago such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.
IS’ video propaganda has featured militants including Malaysians and Indonesians, with the latest showing a Singaporean calling for jihad in Southeast Asia.
After the fall of IS strongholds in Iraq and Syria, authorities and experts are concerned that the Southeast Asian region may become a new hotbed for the international terror group.
Indonesian and Malaysian authorities have successfully cracked down on the activities of the terror group in their countries, but calls by the dwindling central IS organisation for small-cell action or lone-wolf attacks in its supporters’ or operatives’ own countries have become a source of worry.
Last year, eight people were injured when a grenade exploded in a nightclub in Puchong, Selangor – the only IS-related attack to have taken place in Malaysia so far.
In the Philippines, IS-loyal groups, consisting of almost 1,000 militants including Malaysians, attacked the southern Philippine city of Marawi on May 23 in an answer to IS central’s call for the creation of a caliphate in the region.
More than 1,100 people, mostly militants, were killed in the worst armed conflict in the Philippines, which has been battling insurgencies for decades in Mindanao.
TRAC earlier told FMT it believed more than 30 Malaysians had been involved in the Marawi siege, but that Malaysian authorities had publicised the names of only a few.
Malaysian militants were reported to have been killed in Marawi, but their bodies have yet to be found.
The body of lecturer-turned militant Mahmud Ahmad was reportedly found and visually identified by the military and hostages, but this has yet to be confirmed by DNA tests.
Malaysian authorities have collected DNA samples from Mahmud’s family and offered them to their Philippine counterparts to facilitate DNA testing.
Malaysian police have also requested that the body of Mahmud be returned home.
The five-month clashes in Marawi were the only full-scale war involving IS in the region, but small-scale attacks still occurred in southern Philippines.
The latest occurred in Basilan last week, where six troops were killed in a clash with Abu Sayyaf, one of the groups responsible for the Marawi siege.