Official says Malaysia arrested 10 terrorism suspects to stem growth of hard-line Islamic sect

By Eileen Ng, AP
Friday, January 29, 2010

Official: Malaysia holds 10 to stem radical Islam

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysia’s arrest of 10 terror suspects was part of a sweep targeting the hard-line Islamic sect often associated with al-Qaida, but any link to the Nigerian suspected in the attempted bombing of a U.S. airliner remains unclear, a senior official said Friday.

Malaysia’s home minister announced the arrests Wednesday under the Internal Security Act, which allows indefinite detention without trial, saying they were mainly foreigners linked to an international terrorist network and posed a security threat. He declined to give further details.

Activists said they included four men from Syria, two from Nigeria and one each from Yemen and Jordan.

Jordanian and Syrian officials said they had been informed of the arrests and would cooperate in the investigation.

The senior Malaysian official, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the suspects were believed to be followers of the orthodox Wahhabi sect, which seeks to purify Islamic beliefs and supports the establishment of Muslim states based on Islamic laws. Osama bin Laden and other members of al-Qaida are believed to have been influenced by Wahhabi doctrines.

Several of the foreigners were on suspect lists from international anti-terror organizations, including the United States, the official said, but couldn’t provide further details.

The government-linked New Straits Times newspaper reported Thursday that the men may be linked to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a young Nigerian accused of trying to detonate a bomb hidden in his underwear on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Dec. 25.

The newspaper said Friday that police were investigating the possibility that some of the suspects were in Yemen at the same time as Abdulmutallab when he was allegedly undergoing training. It didn’t say how it obtained the information.

However, the Malaysian official said there were no confirmed links at this stage between the suspects and Abdulmutallab. He said the arrests were aimed at controlling Wahhabism amid concerns it could feed violence among extremist Muslims in Malaysia.

Nigerian High Commissioner Peter J.E. Anegbeh said he was still verifying the arrest of his citizens in Malaysia. He described Abdulmutallab as a “misguided child” and said the thousands of Nigerians studying and working in Malaysia reject terrorism.

Analysts said Wahhabism’s teachings have been distorted by extremists, including many al-Qaida leaders, to justify violence.

“The linking of these fundamental Wahhabi interpretations of Islam with al-Qaida’s violent political goals is fueling terrorism, so it isn’t surprising that there are concerns when you see these individuals around,” said John Harrison, research head at Singapore’s International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research.

“It could lay an ideological foundation for wider problems,” he said.

It was unclear whether Abdulmutallab, who was exposed to radical Islam in Yemen, subscribes to Wahhabism, he added.

An audiotape with a voice purported to be that of Osama bin Laden endorsed the Christmas Day airline attack and described Abdulmutallab as a heroic warrior.

The Wahhabi sect is not banned in Malaysia, where ethnic Malay Muslims make up about two-thirds of the 28 million people and authorities keep a close eye on deviant teachings.

Rights group Abolish ISA Movement said Thursday the 10 men were among 50 people arrested by police on Jan. 21 while attending a weekly Islamic class with a Syrian university lecturer at a home near Kuala Lumpur. Most were later freed.

A Malaysian who was among those initially arrested identified the Syrian preacher as Aiman Al Dakkak, who has lived in Malaysia since 2003.

Aiman gave regular religious classes but did not advocate terrorism, said Muhamad Yunus Zainal Abidin, one of his students.

“In Islam, there is jihad but this kind of jihad — bombings — Aiman condemns it,” Muhamad Yunus said. “He is against terrorism … He always told us that is not the way of Islam.”

Aiman studied in Pakistan as a teenager and worked at a Karachi university before moving to Malaysia, he said.

Over the past decade, Malaysian authorities have held more than 100 militant suspects, mainly alleged members of the al-Qaida-linked Southeast Asian network Jemaah Islamiyah, which is blamed for attacks including the 2002 bombing on the Indonesian island of Bali that killed 202 people.

Most were released after authorities said they were rehabilitated. None was ever charged.

Associated Press writers Julia Zappei and Sean Yoong in Kuala Lumpur and Jamal Halaby in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.

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