KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — A Malaysian international footballer has been splashed by acid and two other top players were attacked within a week by unknown assailants, in a rare outbreak of violence targeting athletes in the country.

Police criminal investigation chief Mohamad Shuhaily Mohamad Zain said Wednesday that there were similarities in the three attacks and that the victims appeared to have been targeted. But investigators have not determined whether the cases were linked.

Faisal Halim, who plays as a winger for the national team and Malaysian club Selangor, was hospitalized with fourth-degree burns following an acid attack by two assailants at a shopping mall on Sunday. He was reported to be in critical but stable condition, with limited movement and speech.

Just three days earlier, another prominent national team player, Akhyar Rashid, was assaulted in a robbery outside his house in eastern Terengganu state after his return from training. He was hit with an iron rod, leaving him head and leg injuries. His attackers fled after taking money from him.

Late Tuesday, former national team captain Safiq Rahim was tailed by two assailants on a motorbike after a training session in southern Johor state. They later threatened him with a hammer and smashed his car’s rear window but he was not physically hurt.

“Our investigations also showed that the players involved were tailed prior to the attacks. The perpetrators also worked in pairs in all the attacks,” Shuhaily, the investigation chief, was quoted as saying by English-language daily The Star.

Two people were initially detained over Faisal’s attack, but one was later released.

Shuhaily said police were studying the possibility that the attacks could be linked to a recent letter sent to the Malaysian soccer federation (FAM) accusing it of mismanagement of funds, bribery and fraud. However, the country’s anti-graft agency has found those accusations baseless.

Police urged professional footballers to be vigilant while the investigation is ongoing, while FAM has suggested that star players consider hiring bodyguards.

The Selangor club has launched a solidarity campaign for Faisal, while Safiq’s Johor team has boosted the security of its players.

___

AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer