KUALA LUMPUR – A new militant group uncovered by Malaysian police last week had trained with guns in remote palm plantations and forests, and some weekend sessions were paid for by a foreign businessman, it was reported yesterday.

Eleven members of the unnamed group, including a woman, were nabbed in Selangor and Kedah recently.

Police suspect the members were planning to launch a bombing campaign against “Western and American” targets in Malaysia, including foreign embassies and entertainment outlets in the popular Bangsar area.

More arrests are expected to follow, said police chief Khalid Abu Bakar.

The network, which is not linked to Al-Qaeda or its regional terror affiliate Jemaah Islamiah but which follows their violent ideology, allegedly sent many members to fight in Syria against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, police said.

The terror group was formed six months ago and had been monitored by the police since last November.

A man who trained with the group told Mingguan Malaysia, the Sunday edition of the Utusan Malaysia newspaper, that he had joined it as part of a group that played paintball and did “para-military training”.

These sessions took place in palm plantations in Johor and Selangor, an abandoned building in Pahang and forests in Kelantan.

Weapons shaped to look like AK-47, MP4 and Glock guns were later introduced with iron pellets as bullets, and the trainers started to speak the language of jihad, the unnamed man said.

He added that each session with at least 40 participants had cost between RM10,000 (S$3,800) and RM20,000.

He claimed that these were sponsored by a “foreign businessman”, whose identity and nationality were not revealed.

“At first, we were enjoying ourselves, as we thought this was for fun. Everything was paid for and we just needed to pay for the fuel for our cars and our food. But later, we were surprised, as the training became more serious with talk of jihad incorporated,” Utusan quoted the man as saying. He left the group after he was told that he should fight as a jihadist and die a martyr.

He said the trainers could handle weapons well and claimed they were with the security forces.

Meanwhile, police chief Khalid rubbished a claim in Britain’s Mail On Sunday newspaper that the militants had been nabbed on suspicion that they were linked to the Malaysia Airlines (MAS) plane that disappeared on March 8 with 239 people on board.

The newspaper also said the 11 suspects arrested had links to Al-Qaeda and were being interrogated on whether they were behind the disappearance of Flight MH370.

“The interrogations come after international investigators, including the FBI and MI6, asked for the militants, whose ages range from 22 to 55 and include students, odd-job workers, a young widow and business professionals, to be questioned intensively about Flight MH370,” the Mail On Sunday report said on its website.

The MAS plane was heading for Beijing after taking off from Kuala Lumpur.

The British paper quoted an unnamed officer with the counter-terrorism division of Malaysia’s Special Branch as saying: “The possibility that the plane was diverted by militants is still high on the list and international investigators have asked for a comprehensive report on this new terror group.”

About the newspaper’s report, Mr Khalid said: “That’s rubbish! This has nothing to do with the plane.”

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