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RESPONSE TO TERROR

Detainees 'Trained by Al Qaeda'

Asia: Malaysian leader also links the suspected militants to the Taliban in Afghanistan. Officials are probing reports of bomb-making material.

January 17, 2002|From Associated Press

SERDANG, Malaysia — Members of a group of suspected Islamic militants arrested in Malaysia were trained in Afghanistan by Al Qaeda and Taliban forces, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Wednesday.

Mahathir said police also were investigating whether a large cache of bomb-making material allegedly hidden in Malaysia by Islamic militants from Singapore was still in the country.

Malaysian officials announced last week that they had arrested 13 people since Dec. 9 who they allege are members of an Islamic militant group with links to Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden's terrorist network.

Authorities in neighboring Singapore have arrested 15 people suspected of Al Qaeda ties who allegedly were planning to blow up the U.S. Embassy and attack high-profile Americans in Singapore. Malaysian officials have said the Malaysian and Singaporean groups may be linked.

Asked Wednesday about the ties of the Malaysian detainees to Al Qaeda, Mahathir told reporters: "I am informed that they were trained by the same people--they were trained in Afghanistan by the Taliban as well as the Al Qaeda."

But he said he was uncertain whether the alleged militants were directly connected to those involved in the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States. "We don't know, unless of course you consider training in the same place as being linked," Mahathir said.

Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said Tuesday that the Singaporean terror suspects had brought tons of bomb-making material--particularly ammonium nitrate--into Malaysia. He said that the material had since been removed but that authorities did not know the current location.

On Wednesday, Mahathir said Malaysian authorities were still investigating.

"We are trying to find out [about] these allegations that there are explosives, huge amounts of explosives, in Malaysia," Mahathir said. "But we haven't enough information for us to detect or to locate the position."

Officials say the militants may be part of a network of Islamic cells operating in several Southeast Asian nations and plotting attacks.

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