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Singapore Holding 21 More Suspected Terrorists

Asia: Government says several men taken into custody last month were trained at Al Qaeda camps. Others allegedly scouted bombing targets.

September 17, 2002|RICHARD C. PADDOCK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JAKARTA, Indonesia — The government of Singapore said Monday that it had arrested 21 suspected terrorists, including some who were trained at Al Qaeda camps and several who conducted reconnaissance of potential bombing targets in the island nation.

The arrests add to evidence of terrorist activity in Southeast Asia amid mounting concerns that the Al Qaeda terrorist network is planning new attacks on U.S. embassies, warships and other targets in the region.

Nineteen of the detainees are current or former members of Jemaah Islamiah, an organization linked to Al Qaeda that planned seven suicide truck bombings of high-profile targets in Singapore late last year, the Ministry of Home Affairs said.

"These latest arrests have seriously disrupted the JI [Jemaah Islamiah] network in Singapore," the ministry said in a four-paragraph statement. "There is no known imminent security threat from other JI elements in Singapore."

All the detainees are Singaporeans, and some traveled to Afghanistan for Al Qaeda training, the government said. The arrests occurred in August, it said. The detainees' names were not released.

Two of those in custody were associated with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, an extremist group in the southern Philippines, authorities said. Some of the detainees trained at a location on Mindanao island run by the organization and known as Camp Abu Bakar, the officials said.

Singapore said the arrests resulted from the continuing investigation of last year's plot by Jemaah Islamiah to blow up the seven targets, including the U.S., British, Australian and Israeli embassies.

Thirteen alleged members of the group, including some of its leaders, were arrested last year and have been ordered incarcerated for at least two years. Under Singapore's strict Internal Security Act, they can be held indefinitely without trial.

Authorities said some of the new detainees were following orders issued by Jemaah Islamiah leaders who were arrested last year. It was unclear whether the detainees were involved in a new bombing scheme or are accused of assisting in last year's plot.

It also was unclear whether the arrests were linked to an alleged Al Qaeda bomb threat that prompted the United States to shut down a number of its embassies in Southeast Asia last week. The embassies in Indonesia and Malaysia reopened Monday under tight security. The embassy in Singapore, which is heavily fortified, did not close.

A suspected leader of last year's bomb plot, an Al Qaeda member initially identified as "Sammy," was arrested earlier this year in Oman after Singaporean police issued an alert to security agencies around the world. He is now believed to be in U.S. custody in an undisclosed location. Authorities would not say whether he provided information that led to the arrest of any of the Singaporeans.

At the time of the planned operation last year, he was using a Canadian passport that identified him as Jabarah Mohammed Mansour, a 20-year-old of Kuwaiti origin. One of his jobs was to arrange for foreign suicide bombers to carry out the attacks, authorities said.

" 'Sammy' was the leading and directing figure in the plan to bomb several targets in Singapore including the U.S. and Israeli embassies," the Ministry of Home Affairs said in an earlier statement.

About 20 Jemaah Islamiah members escaped in December, Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew said earlier this year.

Singapore and Malaysia have said for months that the head of Jemaah Islamiah is Abu Bakar Bashir, an Islamic cleric who lives freely in Indonesia. He denies any role in terrorist activity, and Indonesian authorities say they have no evidence he has committed any crime. The U.S. is expected soon to include Jemaah Islamiah on its list of terrorist organizations, which could increase the pressure on Indonesia to move against Bashir.

The warning that Al Qaeda operatives planned to bomb U.S. embassies in Southeast Asia around the time of the Sept. 11 anniversary came from Omar Faruq, a Kuwaiti who was arrested by Indonesian agents in June and handed over to the United States.

Authorities say he recently began talking and has provided a wealth of information. They say he has told interrogators that he was Al Qaeda's link to Southeast Asian terror groups.

Time magazine reported this week that it had obtained a CIA report of confessions from Faruq. According to the prisoner, he and several accomplices twice planned to assassinate Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri but both plots went awry.

The magazine said Faruq also told investigators that Bashir was eager to get involved with Al Qaeda and that he authorized Jemaah Islamiah operatives to participate in bombings.

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