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Nigerian students held in “anti-terror” sweep in Malaysia

The nine foreigners arrested on alleged ‘acts of terrorism’ last week are also not likely to face trial. They are held under the Internal Security…

The nine foreigners arrested on alleged ‘acts of terrorism’ last week are also not likely to face trial. They are held under the Internal Security Act (ISA), an act that was introduced by the British to contain communist insurgency. Under the ISA, the police can hold individuals indefinitely without trials. Over the years, Malaysian security agencies have held more than 100 suspects; mainly alleged members of the al-Qaeda-linked Southeast Asian network Jemaah Islamiyah, which was blamed for the 2002 bombing on the Indonesian island of Bali.

Most of the suspects were released after spending years in a northern prison centre. The government said they were rehabilitated and were no longer a security threat. None of them was ever charged to court. Among those arrested last week are two men from Nigeria, four from Syria, one from Yemen, a Malaysian, one from Jordan and another Arab man. They were among the 50 people arrested while attending a religious class at Gombak, an area in Kuala Lumpur near the famous International Islamic University.

But the home minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, denied the allegation that they were arrested at a religious talk. “This is not true. We were working with other international anti-terrorism agencies and nabbed the 10 suspects who are on the international wanted list. The minister said the nine foreigners had only just arrived here when they were nabbed.

“They would not have had time to do much and establish themselves here,” Hishammuddin said.

“They posed a serious security threat to the country and have been detained under the ISA,” he said.

However, a 29-year-old Malaysian, Muhamad Yunus Zainal Abidin said at a conference that he was one of the 50 people arrested, detained, questioned and later released with 38 others. He said they were nabbed while attending a lecture by Syrian preacher, Aiman Al Dakkak.   Aiman is a Syrian university lecturer who is said to have been living in Malaysia since 2003. According to Muhamad Yunus Zainal Abidin, he gave regular religious classes, but did not preach terrorism to his students.

Syed Ibrahim Syed Noh, chairman of the Abolish ISA Movement, who organised the conference and who also revealed the nationalities of those detained, said the detentions might have been a reaction to international pressure on Malaysia to fight terrorism, especially after U.S. issued warnings on Sabah. Sabah is on the eastern fringes of Malaysia with many islands. The U.S. said militants were plotting attacks on foreigners at the island resorts.

Although Muhammad Yunus said the authorities questioned him about the activities of Aiman Al Dakkak, they didn’t ask him questions about Farouk Mutallab. Malaysian New Straits Times, a government-linked newspaper said those arrested had links with Al-Qaeda and Farouk. It reported on Thursday, 28 January, that the police “acted quickly to forestall a serious threat to national security when they nabbed 10 terror suspects with links to international terrorist organisations.

“The nine foreigners and a Malaysian were also believed to be linked to a Nigerian student who attempted to blow up a U.S.-bound flight on Christmas Day. The New Straits Times learnt that the 10 suspects were members of a religious group linked to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, the Nigerian who was arrested in the United States after he attempted to detonate explosives sewn into his underwear on board Northwest Airlines Flight 253, which was bound for Detroit from Amsterdam.

“It was learnt that foreign anti-terrorism agencies informed Malaysian authorities that the 10 were linked to Abdulmutallab and that they were in Malaysia.”

New Straits Times, however, didn’t say how they obtained the information or how those arrested were linked to Al Qaeda.

The President of Malaysian chapter of Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation (NIDO), Professor Abdul Karim Muhammad, is not happy with New Straits Times’ methods of reporting. He expressed his displeasure to our reporter thus: “Let’s start with the headline: it was quite biased and prejudiced. On Thursday this week, it screamed ‘Nigerian underwear bomber: 10 terror suspects held.’ Out of those detained, only two are Nigerians. Four men are from Syria. The leader of the group is Syrian. Why wouldn’t they put Syria or another country in the headline? I hope we are not being targeted. Recently, the government set up a task force against Africans.  A task force against Africans!

“On Thursday, we were at the High Commission and had a meeting with police officers in charge of anti-terrorism. And we wanted them to know that they should not victimise our compatriots, and do their investigations without any racial tint or bias.”

Weekly Trust spoke with two officials of the Nigerian High Commission in Malaysia. Although both of them didn’t want to give details, fearing that it will impede investigations, they were unanimous in saying that the Malaysian authorities have not officially written to them.

“Even the meeting we had with them on Thursday was at our request,” one of them said.

Another official said that they have not been given access to the Nigerians but since they were going to have a meeting with the commissioner of police in charge of terrorism on Friday, “we’ll request to see them. We want to know where they are kept, where they were arrested and if they did what is alleged. Their welfare is our primary concern. So far, they are being held on mere suspicion. My opinion is that the Nigerians were at the wrong place at the wrong time. Therefore, we want to be assured of their protection and tried in a conventional court.

Ibrahim Syed, the Malaysian human rights activist who helps people detained under ISA agrees with the Nigerian official. He wants the suspects to be tried in an open court or released. “The GMI values the security of the country and does not condone any terrorist activities. However, an individual is entitled to a fair trial. “If there is evidence against those detained, then charge them in an open court where they can defend themselves,” he said.

Malaysia has approximately 20,000 Nigerians out of which 7,500 are students in both private and public universities.

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