KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysian police are looking into reports that an armed man detained in the country’s capital last week had links to an Israeli crime syndicate, its top official said on Tuesday, amid a widening probe.

Inspector-General of Police Razarudin Husain identified the suspect – who was arrested at a Kuala Lumpur hotel on March 27 carrying six guns and 200 bullets – as 36-year-old Shalom Avitan and said police were seeking more suspects to assist in the investigation.

The Times of Israel, citing Hebrew-language media, reported on Saturday that Avitan was an associate of an Israeli criminal syndicate who had been en route to assassinate a member of a rival crime family.

Razarudin confirmed that Avitan told Malaysian authorities that he was in Malaysia to hunt down another Israeli citizen, but said police remained doubtful and did not rule out the possibility that the suspect could have had other plans.

“We are seeking to identify a motive… we are wondering why he’s looking for one person with six guns,” Razarudin said.

Authorities were preparing charges against Avitan, who has been remanded until April 7, for illegal trafficking of firearms, which carries penalties that could include whipping, life imprisonment or a death sentence.

Razarudin said Avitan had paid a married Malaysian couple 10,000 ringgit ($2,104.82) for the guns, which were smuggled from neighbouring Thailand. The couple and another Malaysian suspected of acting as Avitan’s driver were also arrested.

Malaysia is working to tighten border security following the arrests, Razarudin said, given the country’s criticism of Israel’s actions in the Gaza war. Malaysia and Israel do not have diplomatic relations.

In 2018, a Palestinian scientist was shot dead in Kuala Lumpur in a killing that the Hamas militant group suggested was carried out by Israel’s Mossad intelligence service. Israel denied the allegations.

($1 = 4.7510 ringgit)

(Reporting by Mandy Leong and Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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