Published on Friday, March 13, 2015

Extra scrutiny for Malaysian pilgrims heading to Middle East

Malaysia will beef up screening of pilgrims before being allowed to travel for the umrah pilgrimage to Mecca as there are fears some are using it as a cover to join ISIS militants in Syria.

Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz said the move was in response to cases of pilgrims going missing in the Middle East.

He said the Government wants to make sure pilgrims going to Mecca and Madinah were solely there to perform the pilgrimage and not to join the Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria.

"There are cases of pilgrims from Malaysia who went missing after performing the umrah to join the IS," Nazri told reporters.

He said all pilgrims would be screened - those on package tours and independent travelers.

"We will work closely with the Saudi government to tackle the issue of missing pilgrims as the issuance of visas comes under their jurisdiction,'' he said.

Latest estimates say up to 60 Malaysians are fighting with ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

The move comes as a group of 16 Indonesian tourists on a package tour in Turkey were detained trying to cross into neighbouring Syria.

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