The 10 militants arrested by police early this week in Kedah and Selangor were planning to travel to Syria and take part in the three-year-old civil war there, said a Malaysian security official.
The official told The Malaysian Insider that the eight men and two women had been influenced by the "persecution" of Sunni Muslims in Syria and wanted to fight alongside rebels against the forces of President Bashar Al-Assad.
"More than 20 other Malaysians have already been detected entering Syria and fighting against the Syrian forces," the official said.
"The main reason the Malaysians are fighting in the civil war against Bashar is the perceived persecution and oppression of their Sunni brothers by the Syrian president.
"Bashar is viewed as a Shia follower and has been backed in his country's civil war by Iran, while the rebels are backed by Sunni-majority countries," the official said.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the security official told The Malaysian Insider that the 10 militants arrested in Kedah and Selangor on Monday and Tuesday are between the ages of 20 and 50, and did not hold regular jobs.
The official said Malaysian interest in the Syrian civil war was sparked last year when former Internal Security Act detainee Yazid Sufaat was charged with inciting terrorist acts that threatened the public in Syria.
Similar to the 10 militants, Yazid, Halimah Hussein and Mohd Hilmi Hasim were arrested under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012.
"From Yazid's arrest and prosecution, fresh interest in the Syrian civil war was piqued and new cells, which police had previously not detected, began to surface.
"Recruitment was mainly conducted via social media channels such as Facebook," the official said, adding that once a group had been established, they would make travel plans.
"The most common route would be to fly from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport to Istanbul, Turkey.
"From there, Malaysian jihadists would be met by a middleman who would then take them into Syria using slip roads."
The Malaysian Insider also learnt that the jihadists would only bring cash with them from Malaysia and use it to buy weapons once they arrive in Syria.
"A Russian AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifle is typically sold for US$500 (RM1,645) along with a magazine of ammunition," the official said.
In the run-up to last year's Umno general assembly, bashing Shia Muslims became a major theme, led by party vice-president and Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.
In December last year, Zahid had given the Islamic Development Malaysia Department (Jakim) full authority to act against alleged Shia Muslim leaders in PAS.
Zahid had said he was perplexed how PAS as an Islamist party could have elected a Shia leader into its number two position.
Although he did not name the PAS leader, it is common knowledge that Mohamad Sabu retained the deputy president's post in the party's muktamar.
Furthermore, Umno grassroots wanted to bring a bill into Parliament to amend the Federal Constitution to only recognise Sunni Islam as Malaysia's official religion.
Putrajaya's strong anti-Shia rhetoric did not go unnoticed by Iran when individuals in the predominantly Shia country began to boycott Malaysian goods in March this year.
An official from the Iranian embassy in Kuala Lumpur was reported as saying that trade between Malaysian and Iran had declined in the first two months of the year. – May 2, 2014.