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Terror Suspect Well-Liked at Univ.

October 11, 2002

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) _ Ahmed Ibrahim Bilal was well-liked at Malaysia’s International Islamic University, where Muslim students from around the world are drawn to a modern curriculum combining religious and secular studies.

On Thursday, Bilal left the country in U.S. custody and was flown to Guam, where charges were read against him, said assistant U.S. attorney Charles Gorder. Gorder said Bilal was expected to arrive in the next couple of days in Portland, Ore., where he has been indicted for conspiracy to levy war against the United States, conspiracy to provide material support and resources to al-Qaida, and conspiracy to contribute services to al-Qaida and the Taliban.

According to the charges, Bilal was one of six militants, most of whom tried to get to Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to fight alongside al-Qaida. Bilal and one other didn’t return to the United States after the trip.

Instead, Bilal traveled to Indonesia and then ended up in Malaysia.

Classmates said they were shocked when a mugshot of the slightly smiling, long-bearded Bilal was featured in most newspapers over the weekend.

Home to 12,000 students, including 2,000 from Africa and the Middle East, the sprawling campus was built in 1983 by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

The college is part of his vision to promote this Southeast Asian country as a center of modern Islam, stressing the need for Muslims to acquire knowledge in the sciences in order to compete in a globalized economy.

``We are not a breeding ground for extremism or terrorism,″ said acting rector Ismawi Zen. ``We are here to do good for society, to create graduates of caliber.″

The courses range from Islamic studies to medicine and economics. A mosque in the center of campus is a hive of activity throughout the day, attracting students and lecturers to prayers and religious discussions.

Many on campus described Bilal as a good student who often led prayers and gave tutorials in English. He was enrolled in Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences, a course taken by many aspiring to be religious teachers or clerics.

``He was a model student, he did very well in his exams and was well liked by his classmates and lecturers,″ Ismawi said.

U.S. Ambassador Marie Huhtala expressed thanked the government’s speed in deporting Bilal.

``Malaysia is a part of the solution and not the problem when it comes to counterterrorism,″ Huhtala said.

Syed Amir, a Malaysian who studied with Bilal, described him as someone devoted to his religion and who could recite the Quran by heart.

``Nobody here believes he is a terrorist,″ Syed told The Associated Press.

Police officials said that they do not suspect him of trying to create or join a militant network in Malaysia, which has arrested more than 60 suspected militants who allegedly belonged to an al-Qaida-linked group that plotted to blow up the U.S. Embassy and other Western targets in neighboring Singapore.

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