India Seeks Malaysian Intelligence Input on Alleged Financing for Terror Plot

Hadi Azmi, Nisha David and Muzliza Mustafa – Kuala Lumpur
2020-12-15
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India Seeks Malaysian Intelligence Input on Alleged Financing for Terror Plot Malaysia-based Indian Islamic televangelist Zakir Naik prays at a mosque in Melaka, Malaysia, Sep. 7, 2019.
[Reuters]

New Delhi has contacted Malaysian authorities about an Indian intelligence report claiming that U.S. $200,000 allegedly routed from Kuala Lumpur to India could be used to fund a terror attack on the subcontinent in coming weeks, a senior security official told BenarNews.

According to an Indian intelligence document seen by two leading Indian media outlets, the money was sent by Malaysia-based Indian Islamic cleric Zakir Naik, and a Rohingya leader named Mohammad Naseer, to finance a woman-led terror operation in northern or eastern India.

“They contacted us seeking further information on the day the news report came out,” said the Malaysian security official, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the issue and requested not to be named, referring to Indian media reports from the weekend.  

BenarNews tried to contact counterterrorism officials in India as well as criminal investigation officials in the eastern state of West Bengal for more details, but they couldn’t be reached. The Indian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur didn’t immediately comment.

The Indian publications said that New Delhi suspected the woman leading the alleged terror attack plan was sent from Malaysia to Myanmar for training, and had planned to infiltrate into India through Bangladesh or Nepal.

Bangladesh’s counterterrorism officials told BenarNews they had not yet heard from India about an alleged terror suspect entering India via the border.

“We do not have any such information of possible infiltration in India from Bangladesh. India also hasn't made any communication regarding this matter,” said Saiful Islam, deputy commissioner of Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime.  

Indian intelligence officials discovered that an individual in the southern city of Chennai received a part of the $200,000 of funds routed from Kuala Lumpur, likely through a non-banking money transfer system called hawala, the Indian media outlets reported.

Malaysia had yet to receive proof from India about the alleged financial transactions, but the central bank was looking into it, the Malaysian security official said.

“BNM (Malaysia’s central bank) is still scrutinizing the transaction records. However, any hawala transaction will not surface on formal financial records. Hawala record is also very hard to prove as it is not an official record,” the official told BenarNews.

“Since the Indian authorities claimed they have intercepted financial records, I recommend you to get the info direct from BNM, since Zakir Naik is associated with the transaction. We are also waiting for them to clarify.”

BNM didn’t respond to BenarNews’ request for comment.

Unknown Rohingya man

Naik, a hardline Islamic televangelist, left India in 2016, and subsequently obtained permanent residency in Muslim-majority Malaysia. He faces charges in India to do with money laundering and inciting hatred through his sermons broadcast on Peace TV.

Indian authorities had accused Naik of inspiring some of the militants who carried out an Islamic State-linked terrorist attack at a café in Dhaka, where 29 people, including 20 hostages, were killed in July 2016.

In August 2019, Malaysia temporarily banned Naik from delivering sermons, amid complaints that his speeches carried racist comments about the multicultural nation that is sheltering him from prosecution in India.

Malaysian officials have no knowledge about Naseer, the Rohingya man who allegedly sent money to India along with Naik.

 “So far, this ‘Mohammed Naseer’ is not traced in our counterterrorism radar,” the security official said, adding that two police units that monitor Rohingya NGOs had responded negatively to queries on the name.

Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, who served as Malaysia’s counter-terror chief until February 2020, told BenarNews that Naseer’s name didn’t surface during his tenure, including in connection with a Rohingya group found to be sending funds to Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) militants in Myanmar in 2019.

“He could be known by a different name here, maybe,” Ayob said.

‘Rubbish news’

As of October 2020, Malaysia hosted 102,000 Rohingya refugees, according to figures from the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR).

The agency didn’t break down the number to say how many arrived in Malaysia after a brutal military crackdown in Myanmar in 2017 forced hundreds of thousands of Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh and other countries.

Myanmar conducted the crackdown after deadly raids on police and military outposts in Rakhine state which authorities blamed on ARSA rebels. Myanmar declared ARSA a terrorist group by on Aug. 25, 2017.

In 2018, a study paper by the European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS) in Amsterdam said that Malaysia was “being used as a clearing house for ARSA funds and a transit point for movement of militants.”

A year later, Malaysia made its first terror-related arrests involving Rohingya, police said at the time.

In May 2019, two Rohingya were among suspects arrested in a foiled Islamic State (IS) plot in Malaysia to attack worship sites and assassinate “high-profile personalities” during Ramadan.

As for the cleric Naik, his spokesman told BenarNews that the Indian publications’ reports alleging his involvement have no basis in fact.

“Dr. Naik usually does not comment on such vague news. What The Times of India reported is rubbish news. The report doesn’t even explain the nature of the alleged connection,” said Naik’s spokesman, who did not wish to be named for security reasons.

He was referring to one of the two Indian publications that reported on the alleged financing for a terror attack.

Shailaja Neelakantan in Washington, Prapti Rahman in Dhaka and Paritosh Paul in Kolkata, India, contributed to this report.

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