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Cambodia to Crack Down on Islamic Group

May 29, 2003

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) _ Cambodian police said Thursday they were preparing to shut down two branches of a local Islamic group they believe has links to Jemaah Islamiyah, the Southeast Asian extremist group suspected in last year’s Bali bombings.

The widening crackdown on the Umm Al Qura group follows the arrests Sunday of its acting chief, who is an Egyptian, and two other Thai members on charges of international terrorism and links to Jemaah Islamiyah. They face up to life in prison if convicted.

On Thursday, police were moving to shut down two Umm Al Qura branches in Kandal and Kampong Chhnang provinces, police Gen. Sok Phal told The Associated Press. He did not give details.

Kandal, which surrounds Phnom Penh, and Kampong Chhnang, which is north of the capital, have significant concentrations of Cambodian Muslims, known as Chams.

Police have also ordered the deportation of 28 foreign teachers at a Saudi Arabia-funded Islamic religious school run by Umm Al Qura, and the teachers’ 22 dependents. The order, issued Wednesday, gave them 72 hours to leave.

The police action, coming just weeks before a major international meeting to be held in the Cambodian capital, is the first indicator that foreign activists may have been trying to stir up militancy in Cambodia’s small Muslim minority.

The three men charged with terrorism have been identified as Abdul Azi Haji Thiming and Muhammad Jalaludin Mading of Thailand, and Esam Mohammed Khidr Ali of Egypt.

Sok Phal said Ali is believed to have spent some time at a terrorism training school in the Middle East, but he refused to say whether he was there as a participant.

Officials said Ali and the two Thais have links to Jemaah Islamiyah, an Islamic extremist group that seeks to establish an Islamic state across Southeast Asia. The group, which is believed to have ties to al-Qaida, is suspected in the Oct. 12 bombings in Bali that killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists.

Sok Phal said the arrests were carried out following after the United States requested that Ali and the two Thais be detained.

He said the crackdown would ensure security in Phnom Penh for the June 16-21 meetings of Cabinet ministers and other officials from 23 countries, including the United States, in the ASEAN Regional Forum.

The Cham ethnic minority makes up less than 5 percent of Cambodia’s 12.5 million people, most of whom are Buddhist.

Update hourly