Malaysia `monitoring' religious schools

Even as the anti-terror vigil in some sensitive pockets of South-East Asia was stepped up, the Malaysian Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, said today that his administration was monitoring the activities of religious schools in his country. This was being done in view of the perception that something other than religion was being taught in such schools in Malaysia, he underlined.

However, both Dr. Mahathir and the security authorities in the Philippines sought to downplay the terrorist threats in the region in the context of moves by a few countries to keep their diplomatic missions in Manila closed for the present in the wake of `credible' information about the possibility of terrorist strikes in the region.

Australia as also Canada and the European Union were among those seeking to take precautionary steps in Manila.The Filipino authorities, especially the security-related officials, sounded a cautionary note that "undue alarm'' should not be raised over the perceived terrorist threats in Manila and elsewhere in the Philippines.

A sense of confidence was exuded by the Filipino officials to underscore that the feared terrorist strikes might "not materialise''. However, the Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, noted that Canberra had to take into account the indications that efforts were under way to foist ``Taliban-style regimes'' in some countries and pockets of South-East Asia.

The intelligence communities have been drawing attention to the suspected moves by the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), a South-East Asian outfit with an alleged allegiance to the Al-Qaeda. The JI's agenda is said to include the creation of a pan-regional Islamic super-state, consisting of Indonesia as also Malaysia and some segments of Thailand and the Philippines. The JI is suspected to have set its sights on Singapore too in this connection.

According to a prominent anti-terror expert in the region, the threat to South-East Asia might have now escalated as a direct result of the suspected `decentralisation' of a `fragmenting' Al-Qaeda.

While the Indonesian authorities arrested a few more suspects today in connection with the recent terrorist outrage in Bali, Dr. Mahathir sought to place the latest proactive action by the Malaysian authorities in a larger political perspective.

Dr. Mahathir said that there was no need for any alarm as the Malaysian authorities "have already taken action'' against suspected militants.

According to an authentic version of Dr. Mahathir's comments in this regard at Putrajaya today, Malaysia had acted on the basis of information some of the local militants had gone to Pakistan as also Afghanistan in the past to learn the use of force for anti-government activities.