Malaysia’s New Most Wanted Terrorist: Mundi Sawadjaan

Publication: Militant Leadership Monitor Volume: 13 Issue: 2

Mundi Sawadjaan (Source: Free Malaysia Today)

On January 27, Malaysia’s Sabah East Coast Security Command (Esscom) updated its list of the country’s five most wanted terrorists. Three of them, including Ahadin Hussein, Ellam Sajirin, and Ismurah Jirah, have been responsible for kidnappings off the waters between Sabah in Malysian Borneo and the Philippines (, January 27). A fourth by the name of Madjid Said is based in Sulu in Mindanao, the Philippines, where he is a commander of the Islamic State (IS)’s Southeast Asia province. It is known locally by its Arabic name, Daulah Islamiah. Madjid Said was also the former deputy of Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, who was the leader of the Abu Sayyaf faction aligned with IS. Sawadjaan, however, was killed in April 2021 by Filipino soldiers (, April 23, 2021).

Until January, it was believed that Sawadjaan’s two nephews, including Mundi Sawadjaan, were killed in the same operation that killed Hatib Hajan. Mundi’s appearance on Esscom’s most wanted terrorist list, however, is now leading Malaysian security officials to acknowledge that Mundi is still alive (, January 30). Mundi had been taken off Esscom’s terrorism most wanted list, but he was placed back on the list in July 2021. Among other lethal attacks, Mundi masterminded the January 2019 double bombings in Jolo at the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral, which killed 22 persons (, January 28, 2019).

As a result of Mundi’s new status, Esscom has established a special branch to monitor his movements and prevent him from entering Sabah from the Philippines, where he is now believed to be based. In addition, Esscom is coordinating with the Joint Task Force of Western Mindanao Command (J2 Westmincom) and Philippine National Police to arrest him or kill him in a special operation. It was the Philippine security forces who had discovered Mundi was still alive after recovering intelligence about him in a July 2021 battle in Mindanao (, January 31).

Mundi is not necessarily expected to carry out another bombing in Sabah, however. Rather, his main threat is facilitating the movement of Indonesians into Sabah either through maritime routes or across the shared border between Malaysian and Indonesian Borneo. Esscom has not specified exactly where the intelligence on Mundi’s current movements is originating from (Twitter/@ZamYusa, February 1).

Mundi likewise has an international recruitment profile. In April 2021, for example, an Egyptian was killed alongside an Abu Sayyaf bomb-maker and third militant in Jolo. They were under Mundi’s command, with the Egyptian having volunteered to become a suicide bomber. At that time, the Philippines security forces expected they would soon capture Mundi, which nearly occurred three months later, but, as recent reports from Sabah are revealing, Mundi evaded capture (, April 18, 2021).

Notwithstanding Mundi being at large, terrorism in Southeast Asia has decreased in the past two years (, January 6). This is attributed, in part, to COVID-19 restrictions, which have limited the movements of Southeast Asians generally, including jihadists. In addition, the increasing capacity of regional counter-terrorism forces, especially in Indonesia, has led to the degradation of some of the region’s most longstanding terrorist groups, such as Jemaah Islamiya.