More details have emerged about the three Malaysian Islamic State (IS) members who were killed in a government airstrike in Raqqah, Syria on Friday.
Among those killed was Zainuri Kamaruddin, 50, a leader of Katibah Nusantara which is a Malay-speaking branch of IS. It groups together fighters from Malaysia, Indonesia and the southern Philippines and it declared war on the Malaysian government last year.
“The latest intelligence we received reveals that on January 13, 2017, three Malaysian citizens who joined Islamic State were killed in air strikes launched by the Syrian military,” said Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, deputy commissioner of Malaysia’s Special Branch counter-terrorism division who spoke to Channel NewsAsia on Sunday (Jan 15).
Special Branch is the intelligence arm of the Royal Malaysian police.
Zainuri’s death, along with Ahmad Asyraf Arbee bin Ahmad Jamal Arbee, 31, and Sazrizal bin Mohd Sofian Thayalan, 27, highlights the determination of IS members to continue fighting despite increased air strikes from the Syrian government, Russia and a Western-led coalition.
“While in Syria, Zainuri became part of Katibah Nusantara. He also recruited Malaysians to join IS through Facebook as well as arranging for their passage to Syria,” said Ayob.
Zainuri had been wounded previously, sustaining injuries to his neck and thigh during a gun battle with Syrian government troops in August 2014. It also killed a 52-year-old Malaysian militant named Zainan bin Harith, or Abu Thurab.
In May 2016, Zainuri made a video in which he burnt his Malaysian passport to show he was never going to return home. He also declared war on the Malaysian government which he accused of being an “infidel state” as it ruled by a democratic system and not shariah laws.
The video featured 12 men from Malaysia and Indonesia and 25 boys, according to Ayob who said they burnt their passports to “symbolise they no longer have ties to their respective countries and stated Malaysia and Indonesia are infidel states as they practice democracy.”
Zainuri left for Syria on April 19, 2014 and is believed to have initially joined the more moderate Ajnad al-Sham rebel group before switching to IS.
He was a former member of the militant Malaysia Mujahidin Group (KMM) and was involved in an armed robbery of the Southern Bank in Petaling Jaya, Selangor to raise funds for KMM. He was held under the Internal Security Act (ISA) that same year, according to police.
The second militant, Ahmad Asyraf, left for Syria in November 2014, Channel NewsAsia understands.
The third militant, Sazrizal, went to Syria together with his wife, also in 2014, but without informing his family. “Before going to Syria, the couple went to Australia to work as fruit pickers to raise money to pay for their passage to Syria,” said Ayob.
The death of the three men brings the number of Malaysians killed to 30 out of a total 95 who are in Syria, according to Ayob.