Cambodia charges three with JI membership and links to al-Qaeda

PHNOM PENH: Cambodia said yesterday it had smashed a radical Islamic network and charged three men with membership of Jemaah Islamiah (JI), the group blamed for the Bali bombing and accused of links to al-Qaeda. 

Cambodian officials said another 50 people from the Middle East and Africa would be deported in a crackdown on terrorism after investigations revealed a local Islamic school was being used as a terrorist front. 

Diplomats said the move was backed by the Americans who have grown increasingly concerned about a potential terrorist attack ahead of a scheduled visit by US Secretary of State Colin Powell in mid-June. 

A court official named the three men arrested as Esam Mohamid Khird Ali, a 40-year-old Egyptian, and two Thais – Abdul Azi Chiming, 35, and Muhammad Yalaludin Mading, 41. 

“They have been charged with being members of the international terrorist group Jemaah Islamiah and with being linked to the al-Qaeda terrorist group,” the court official said. 

Amid tight security the men were charged and then whisked to a local prison where they will be held pending further investigations. 

A senior police official said the local group had received funds from al-Qaeda through Cambodian Islamic schools via a Pakistani national who had acted as a middleman. 

“We have followed their activities very closely and we will seek to halt their operations, and some foreign teachers will be deported,” the police official said. 

Cambodia's lawlessness and culture of impunity has in the past raised fears that it could be become a haven for terrorists. 

Western embassies in Cambodia temporarily shut their doors and security was substantially boosted around the first anniversary of the Sept 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the United States in response to specific threats linked to JI and al-Qaeda. 

One month later JI is alleged to have blown up two packed tourist bars on the Indonesian island of Bali, killing more than 200 people. 

Powell is due here in mid-June for a regional meeting of foreign ministers to be hosted by Asean, and diplomats here applauded yesterday's arrests. 

“We know there was American involvement and that several weeks ago information had come to light on the group's operations,” one ambassador said.  

“It will also improve Cambodia's position in the region.” 

Om Yentieng, senior advisor to Prime Minister Hun Sen, said Hun Sen had ordered the arrests and the deportations after examining evidence presented to him on Tuesday. 

He said 28 teachers from Sudan, Yemen, Nigeria, Egypt, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia – and their families – would be ordered out of the country. Another seven Cambodian Muslims would be ordered to stop their operations. 

“This is an example of a concerted effort by the Cambodia government to crack down and end terrorism,” Om Yentieng said. – AFP.  

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