KUALA LUMPUR: The lawyer of one of the nine suspects who were deported by Malaysia for alleged links with a North African terror group voiced concern on Friday over their well-being. She said that their families were unaware of their whereabouts.
The nine Middle Eastern men — eight Egyptians and one Tunisian — were deported last month during a series of counter-terrorism operations in the Malaysian states of Kuala Lumpur and Sarawak.
Latheefa Koya, the Executive Director of Lawyers for Liberty and the lawyer for the family of AbdAllah Mahmoud Hisham Mostafa Mohamed, released a statement that the Egyptian government claimed it was unaware of the whereabouts of the nine men.
“They were to have arrived in Cairo on an Egyptair flight from Bangkok in the early hours of March 6, 2019. But in response to enquiries by family members, the Egyptian authorities in Cairo claim not to know where they are. They have effectively disappeared into thin air,” said Koya.
Koya stated that the family has strongly maintained that these men were “victims of political persecution in Egypt.”
According to the press statement by the Malaysian police released on Sunday, the arrests were made following a tip-off by foreign intelligence regarding the arrival of “foreign terrorist fighters” from Ansar Al-Shariah Al-Tunisia, which is listed as a terrorist group by the UN.
The Malaysian Police Chief, Mohammed Fuzi Harun, stated that five of the terror suspects who were member of the Muslim Brotherhood facilitated the accommodations, flight tickets, employment and transportation to the two members of Ansar Al-Shariah Al-Tunisia, while another two terror suspects who are also linked to the Muslim Brotherhood were arrested for involvement with Daesh and Al-Qaeda.
Ansar Al-Shariah Al-Tunisia is the latest terror group that has emerged in Malaysia, as the country becomes a hotbed for transit among terror groups in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
Farlina Said, a counter-terrorism analyst from the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia, explained that the group started in Tunisia in 2011 and gained prominence during the Syrian civil war. The group utilizes several methods to achieve their aim of a state practicing ‘pure’ Islam, among which is Da’wah and armed struggle.
“The Ansar Al-Shariah in Tunisia members benefited from a network established in Malaysia, be it for the purchase of tickets, to provide safe havens or to arrange logistics. Such latent networks should be a concern for Malaysia’s national security,” said Farlina.
However, Koya is alarmed that details and procedure of the arrest and deportation have been “clouded in secrecy.”
Koya has been in touch with the family members and representatives of four of the Egyptian suspects.
She said that she only knew about details of their terrorism allegations through press releases, and attempts to gain access to the suspects have failed. In fact, she found out about their deportation only on the day itself.
“We found out from the family members of the wives (of the four suspects) that they have no connection with any terrorist activities. These people have been living in Malaysia for some time. Out of the four, one of them is teaching with the Malaysia’s religious department (JAKIM),” said Koya.
However, Koya does not believe that the Malaysian government would ban Muslim Brotherhood in Malaysia, although the Egyptian suspects are affiliated with the movement.
“Muslim Brotherhood is a legitimate organization and has been recognized by the Malaysian government,” said Koya.
Despite being outlawed in Egypt following the ouster of then President Muhammad Mursi, the Muslim Brotherhood is welcomed by many politicians in Malaysia.
“Not just PAS (Malaysian Islamic Party), even Pakatan Harapan (the ruling coalition in Malaysia) politicians such as Dr. Mujahid Rawa and Dr. Dzulkefly Ahmad, and many of the Muslim politicians in Malaysia would have some links to the Muslim Brotherhood because of the nature of them fighting for democratic process,” said Koya.
On the other hand, Muhammad Sinatra, an analyst at ISIS Malaysia, told Arab News that the deportation of the Egyptians was most likely at the Egyptian government’s request. “As we know, Muslim Brotherhood has a very bitter relationship with the Egyptian state and the request can also be the result of volatile political dynamic in that country.”
Dr. Ahmad El-Muhammady Bin Muhammad Uthman El-Muhammady, a counter-terrorism analyst based in the International Islamic University of Malaysia, told Arab News that he would not be surprised if the Malaysian government banned the Muslim Brotherhood, because many governments in Middle East have done so.