KUALA LUMPUR, May 18 — The deadly attack on Ulu Tiram police station in Johor has reminded Malaysians that the extremist group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) still has a presence in the country.

Mostly based in Indonesia, the JI — Arabic for “Islamic Congregation” — is a South-east Asian Islamist militant group which has dedicated itself to forming a pan-Islamic caliphate through violent means.

The group has been linked to the 2002 Bali bombings in Indonesia and has been said to be part of the global al-Qaeda network.

Malay Mail takes a look at the terror group after yesterday’s attack:

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When JI was at its peak

While the JI core membership is still very much Indonesia-centric, back in the 90s, when one of its prominent members, Azahari Husin was lecturing at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia in Johor, the university was a recruitment ground.

According to Andrin Raj, director of the Nordic Counter Terrorism Network, at the time, recruitment of JI members was at its highest.

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“Johor was conducive for JI to move freely between Indonesia and Malaysia,” he said.

Citing an interview, Andrin said, a student who was recruited by Azahari and later interviewed by the International Association for Counter-terrorism and Security Professionals (IACSP), claimed about 300 to 500 students per year would have been a figure recruited by JI on campus.

He added that the interview also revealed that those students who have graduated are within the private and public sectors, however there is no data on them today.

Experts told Malay Mail that JI was very active in Malaysia before the September 11 attacks and further into mid-2018, although it was later neutralised.

“However, JI is a well-organised terror organisation in South-east Asia, like al-Qaeda,” Raj said.

“There are also unreported incidents that never made their way to the media while JI was still operating in Malaysia during those times. JI remains a regional security threat within the SEA region.”

Yesterday, Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Razarudin Husain said operational security at all police facilities nationwide was to be stepped up following the pre-dawn attack by a 21-year-old man who killed two policemen and injured a third. ― Bernama pic
Yesterday, Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Razarudin Husain said operational security at all police facilities nationwide was to be stepped up following the pre-dawn attack by a 21-year-old man who killed two policemen and injured a third. ― Bernama pic

According to counterintelligence expert Munira Mustaffa, the group has been weakened following the creation of Densus 88, the Indonesian National Police counterterrorism special detachment.

“They were active in the 90s, put to the mid-2000s. The group is weakened following the creation of Densus 88, compounded by the expansion of police capabilities and enhanced intelligence and knowledge sharing and cooperation,” she said.

She however said unless there is new information that could change things, the attack at the Ulu Tiram police station can be seen as an isolated case so far.

“It is safe to assume that this is an isolated case because it’s still too tenuous to assert with certainty that they are actively involved with the nucleus in Indonesia which is still struggling to revive itself in a meaningful way.

“While JI membership in Indonesia remains quite large, the majority are not particularly focused on carrying out attacks due to an ideological shift under Para Wijayanto’s leadership which placed a moratorium on attacks for years now,” she said.

Wijayanto became the leader of JI in 2009, and was arrested in July 2019 in Jakarta. He was reported to be involved in the making of bombs used in a series of attacks including a 2004 bombing at the Australian Embassy that killed nine.

“The Malaysia-based members provided support, logistics and finance at the same time.

“Of course there were more notorious members like Noordin Mohammad Top and Azahari Husin who did more than that,” she said, referring to the two most infamous Malaysian JI members.

Who were the Malaysians in JI?

Riduan Isamuddin, also known as Hambali, was a senior leader of JI, from Cianjur, West Java. Before his capture in Thailand, he used Malaysia as a base for coordinating JI operations and is believed to be involved in attacks including the Bali bombing.

Noordin Mohammad Top, a Malaysian citizen born in Kluang, Johor, was a key recruiter and strategist for JI. Malaysia was also used as a safe haven for Noordin and a place to plan attacks.

Noordin and Azahari were believed to have masterminded various bombings across Indonesia mostly in the 2000s. Until his death in September 2009, he was Indonesia’s most wanted Islamist militant.

Azahari, a lecturer in UiTM Johor, used the university as a recruitment ground.

He was known as an expert bomb-maker and believed to have played a crucial role in the Bali bombings and other attacks in Indonesia.

Forensic police examine the scene of the attack at the Ulu Tiram police station, Johor Baru, May 17, 2024. ― Bernama pic
Forensic police examine the scene of the attack at the Ulu Tiram police station, Johor Baru, May 17, 2024. ― Bernama pic

Zulkifli Abdul Hir, also known as Marwan, a Malaysian citizen from Muar, Johor, is known to be involved in attacks between 2000 and 2015.

A Malaysian microbiologist and former Army captain, Yazid Sufaat, was linked to JI and al-Qaeda. He was known to have provided logistical support to militants and was involved in anthrax research for al-Qaeda. He was arrested by Malaysian authorities in 2001, released in 2008 and arrested again in 2013 on terrorist charges.

Malaysia also served as a hiding place for Mas Selamat Kastari. Originally from Singapore, he fled to Malaysia to escape detention in Singapore and was eventually captured in Malaysia in 2009.

Are JI cells still active in Malaysia?

Munira said until today, there has been only one incident in recent years — yesterday’s attack.

“This is not enough to assert a trend,” she said.

Meanwhile, Raj said Malaysians need to be concerned about radicalism within the country itself and how it may affect the multiculturalism and religious context in its national security outlook.

“The students were Malaysians and they were promoting racial propaganda as well as being trained in military tactics using automatic weapons. These trainings were about one week in the jungles where JI used for their training.

“Most of them have settled into family lives, corporate work as well as in law enforcement, military and government bodies but may not commit acts of terrorism but influence radical propaganda in their respective fields,” he said.

Yesterday, Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Razarudin Husain said operational security at all police facilities nationwide was to be stepped up following the pre-dawn attack by a 21-year-old man who killed two policemen and injured a third.

Two young constables Ahmad Azza Fahmi Azhar and Muhamad Syafiq Ahmad Said were killed by a sole attacker in the Ulu Tiram police station at about 2.30am yesterday. A third policeman on duty was seriously injured but took down the attacker.

Razarudin previously said that police arrested seven individuals, including five members of the suspect’s family aged 19 to 62, and initial investigations revealed that the suspect’s father is a member of a JI cell in Ulu Tiram.

The police are currently going after the JI cell’s remaining 20 members in Johor.

The attack is being investigated under Section 302 of the Penal Code for murder.