Malaysia terror arrests linked to Detroit bomb attempt, officials say

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - Twelve men arrested in Malaysia this month for alleged terrorist offences had connections to the Nigerian student accused of attempting to blow up a US passenger aircraft on Christmas Day, according to a report from Kuala Lumpur.

The Malaysian Home Minister, Hishamuddin Hussein, refused to confirm the report in the New Straits Times, a newspaper which follows the lead of the Government.

He insisted however that the detained men, who were arrested eight days ago at a gathering of Muslims in Kuala Lumpur, were “a serious security threat to the country”.

They included at least one Malaysian, four Syrians, one Yemeni, one Jordanian and two Nigerians, and are being held under Malaysia’s Internal Security Act (ISA). Under the Act suspects can be detained indefinitely without charge or trial.

Mr Hishamuddin said that the arrests were part of a broader international terrorist investigation, although he stopped short of confirming the report in the New Straits Times that they were members of a group connected to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 23-year-old Nigerian who allegedly attempted to detonate explosives on a flight to Detroit.

“We were working with other international anti-terrorism agencies and nabbed the ten suspects who are on the international wanted list,” he said. “If you are talking about international linkages, international terrorism, it cannot stop with just the people we apprehended because we don’t know who else is out there.

“I think this is a very good wake-up call because the playground for the terrorist is no longer one location. In this borderless world that we live in now, the whole world is their playground.”

The detainees were among about 50 people attending a religious study group led by Aiman Al Dakkak, a Syrian academic who has lived in Malaysia since 2003. All those present were arrested but most were released the following morning after five hours of questioning.

One of those released, a Malaysian named Muhamad Yunus Zainal Abidin, said that the police asked him in detail about Mr Aiman and the character of his teachings. Mr Muhamad said that they were confined to religious subjects and did not touch on terrorism or violence.

It has been a tense month in Malaysia. A dispute over the use of the word Allah in Malaysian translations of Christian scripture led to arson and vandalism against churches. This week, in what appeared to be an act of retaliation for those attacks, the heads of boars, a creature abhorrent to many Muslims, were thrown into two mosques.

Two weeks ago the US Government issued a warning of the attacks against foreigners in the Malaysian state of Sabah in northwest Borneo — although no such incidents have so far taken place.

Since the turn of the century Malaysia has arrested more than a hundred people for alleged terrorist offences using the ISA, a relic of British colonial rule that is denounced as an oppressive law by human rights groups.

Most of them have been suspected members of Jemaah Islamiyah, which carried out the 2002 Bali bombings and other attacks mainly in Indonesia. None have ever been charged, although before last week’s arrest nine people remained in custody under the ISA.

“No one should be detained without trial,” said Syed Ibrahim Syed Noh, a lawyer and campaigner against the ISA. “We are demanding that the Government guarantees the safety of the detainees, informs their families of their welfare and allows them proper legal counsel.”