Manama: Malaysia confirmed on Friday the arrest of controversial Saudi columnist Mohammad Najeeb A Kashgari at Kuala Lumpur airport.

Rights groups on Saturday urged Malaysia not to deport the young columnist.

Home Minister Hesham Al Deen Tun Hussain said the Saudi national, also known as Hamza Kashgari, 23, was arrested by police on Thursday at about 9.40am at the request of Saudi Arabian authorities for reportedly insulting Islam and Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), Bernama news agency said.

"The police have been in contact with authorities in Saudi Arabia to determine further action," he said in a statement.

Kashgari has sparked national and international outrage after he used his Twitter account to insult Islam and abuse Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) by pretending he was interacting with him on equal status.

Malaysia and Saudi Arabia do not have a formal extradition treaty. However, an official with the Malaysian home ministry who asked to remain unidentified was quoted as saying Kashgari could be extradited under bilateral security agreements.

Mixed reaction to Kashgari case

Human Rights Watch senior Middle East researcher Christoph Wilcke said Malaysia should not be "complicit in sealing Kashgari's fate by sending him back", where he would be unlikely to face a fair trial.

"Saudi clerics have already made up their mind that Kashgari is an apostate who must face punishment," he added.

"Malaysia should save him from any travesties of justice and allow him to seek safety in a country of his choice," he said.

Rights activist S. Arulchelvan, of Voice of the Malaysian People, said Malaysia should not deport Kashgari but instead allow the United Nations refugee agency to investigate the issue.

Amnesty International had previously called for Kashgari's immediate and unconditional release, saying he faced possible execution if he was returned to Saudi Arabia and his comments were ruled to amount to apostasy.

With input from agencies