Malaysia’s central police headquarters, Bukit Aman, has confirmed that they have received reports that two Malaysians fighting for the Islamic State were killed in Russian air strikes this year.
One of the men was identified as Akel Zainal, best known for having been the drummer in the ’90s rock band The Ukays. Akel was reportedly killed along with his wife and two children in Syria in March of this year. His wife’s identity was not revealed, but police say the children were a 3-year-old boy and 2-year-old girl. Another fighter believed to be from Belgium was also killed in the strike, Bukit Aman’s Counter Terrorism Division told Malay-language daily Berita Harian.
The special branch had been monitoring Akel since 2014, when evidence began to emerge that he was not only sympathetic to the IS cause, but had actually joined the militant movement.
Malaysian intelligence believes that Akel took a leadership role among potential Malaysian militants, and began to actively recruit more of his countrymen following the death of militant Muhammad Wanndy Mohamed Jedi in April 2017.
Muhammad Wanndy was believed to be the most senior figure among Malaysian IS fighters at the time of his death.
Akel is believed to have been radicalized by Lofti Ariffin, a Malaysian ustaz (or religious teacher) who died in battle in IS territory in 2014. He had previously been detained by Malaysian authorities under the Security Act.
The second Malaysian fighter identified by police — Mohd Rafi Udin, also known as Abu Ain and Abu Awn al-Malisi — was killed in January in another Russian strike. He was 53, and living in the last IS-controlled area along the Syria-Iraq border.
Authorities identified him as the executioner in a video showing the decapitation of a Middle Eastern prisoner that was posted online in 2016.
Mohd Rafi can be seen in the clip Lined up and holding knives alongside an Indonesian national and a Philippine national. It was the first time Southeast Asian fighters were shown in the notorious IS propaganda clips.
Both Akel and Mohd Rafi were killed near the town of Baghouz.