Malaysian militants have reportedly been taking personal loans from local banks and money lenders to fund their travel and living expenses as they join fellow militants in the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in their struggle in the Middle East.
In a report that came out recently in the South China Morning Post, Malaysian counter-terrorism officials revealed that at least 59 Malaysians have already left their home country to join ISIS militants fighting government forces in Syria and Iraq in their bid to establish a caliphate in the region.
The officials said more than 65 have been arrested by police either on their way to Syria and Iraq or on their way back since the start of last year.
"At least two women have taken out a personal loan to pay for their passage to Syria to join ISIS and to fund their living expenses there," a senior Malaysian counter-terrorism official said.
"One woman took out a 20,000 ringgit ($5,615 USD) personal loan from RHB Bank. Another woman took out a 6,000 ringgit ($1,684 loan USD) from a licensed money lender," the official added.
The RHB Banking Group is Malaysia's fourth largest financial services group. According to its website, the bank provides personal loans ranging from a minimum of 2,000 ringgit ($561 USD) to a maximum 150,000 ringgit ($42,112 USD).
The militants appeared to be heeding the call made by an ISIS cell leader in Malaysia who earlier urged his followers to apply for the loans to help them join the fight in the Middle East.
It would appear that the lenders did not know the real purpose of these loans which are unlikely to be paid, officials said.
Authorities said those leaving Malaysia bound for ISIS-controlled areas in the Middle East appeared motivated by their desire to live in an Islamic caliphate. These Malaysians consider their own country as an infidel state even though it is a Muslim-majority nation in Southeast Asia, officials said. This is because Malaysia maintains a secular constitution, they added.
One official disclosed that even some well-to-do Malaysians appeared to have been lured by the ISIS propaganda and wanted to migrate to either Syria or Iraq. "We arrested a family of five in Shah Alam who sold off their business, property and land and were about to move to Syria," the official said. "This family owns one restaurant and three kindergartens."
The official also revealed that some male ISIS followers wanted to go to Syria to become suicide bombers since they believe this is a means to "cleanse their sins" for having had premarital sex, which is against the teachings of Islam. "These men are all in their twenties and single. They believe that becoming a suicide bomber is a short cut to cleansing themselves of their sins and entering into heaven," the official said.
At least six Malaysians have died in Syria and Iraq fighting for ISIS, the official said, adding that a former member of an elite Malaysian military unit was among 135 ISIS-linked militants detained by authorities in Saudi Arabia last month.
Malaysian authorities have stepped up their monitoring of certain groups and individuals following the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and the hostage-taking incident in Sydney.