Friday, April 11, 2008

Malaysia extends detention of five suspected Islamic militants

Malaysia's government has extended the imprisonment without trial of five alleged Islamic militants, including a former army captain accused of helping the Sept. 11 hijackers, a human rights group said Thursday.

They have already been held for about six years.

The Home Ministry sent letters to the five men's families in recent weeks indicating they will remain jailed under the Internal Security Act for at least two more years, said Syed Ibrahim Syed Noh, chairman of the Abolish ISA Movement.

"The standard reason was given, which is that they've not been sufficiently rehabilitated," Syed Ibrahim told The Associated Press.

The Internal Security Act, a legacy of British colonial times, lets suspects be held indefinitely without trial for two-year periods that the government can renew indefinitely.

Ministry officials familiar with the detention could not immediately be reached for comment.

The extension suggests that authorities believe the suspects, who are accused of being members of the al-Qaida-linked regional terror group, Jemaah Islamiyah, still pose a security threat despite having been held in a northern prison camp since early 2002.

The most prominent among them is Yazid Sufaat, an ex-army captain who allegedly let several senior al-Qaida operatives, including two eventual Sept. 11 hijackers, use an apartment he owned for meetings in Malaysia in January 2000.

He also is accused of giving a false letter of employment to Zacarias Moussaoui _ the only person charged and convicted in the United States for the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 _ that helped Moussaoui enter the United States.

Yazid, a U.S.-trained biochemist, was arrested in late 2001 when he returned home from Afghanistan, where he was suspected of working on a biological and chemical weapons program.

Security officials have said that Yazid, 44, described the program he was developing for al-Qaida as being in the "conceptual stages" when their plans were interrupted by the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan.

Syed Ibrahim, the rights activist, said the other four detainees are businessman Suhaimi Mokhtar, university lecturer Abdullah Daud, taxi driver Shahrial Sirin and Indonesian trader Abdullah Minyak Silam.

Syed Ibrahim slammed the extension, saying the suspects should be freed or brought to trial.

"We are dumbfounded that the government continues to use" the security act, he said.

The Internal Security Act has also been used to jail hundreds of opposition leaders and others deemed to pose security threats.

About 70 alleged Islamic militants were detained under the act in late 2001 and early 2002. Many have since been released in stages, but rights groups estimate about 20 remain in detention.

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