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Muslimedia: Mahathir Imaginary 'Islamic militants' to placate US
By Abdar Rahman Koya

17/1/2002 2:48 pm Thu

Three sentenced to death as Malaysia joins global crackdown on Islamic activists

By Abdar Rahman Koya in Kuala Lumpur

The Malaysian high court has sentenced three members of an mysterious Islamic group to death, and scores of others to life imprisonment. The sentences follow a low-profile trial that has been enveloped in mystery since the group's infamous arms heist at a military facility in Kuala Lumpur in July 2000.

The government had been trying to use the incident to discredit the Islamic party, PAS, whose popularity has shot up since Mahathir's vile treatment of Anwar Ibrahim angered the Muslim majority of the country.

Faced with pressure from Manila and tiny Singapore, two of the US's staunchest allies in the region, and the haunting fear of US bombardment, the Malaysian government has been forced to step up its campaign against imaginary 'Islamic militants'. Prime minister Mahathir has come to realise that even securing death sentences for members of the 'al-Maunah militant cult' may not be enough to placate Uncle Sam.

Within hours of the verdict the Mahathir regime arrested more people under the notorious Internal Security Act (ISA). This time they were accused of being either linked to or involved in Usama Bin Ladin's al-Qaeda group and planning terrorist activities. As usual, none of these allegations has been accompanied with evidence even for the media. That explains the use of the ISA, which allows the regime to detain suspects indefinitely without legal process.

Then came the sudden decision on January 7 to deport Nur Misuari, the Moro National Liberation Front chairman, back to the Philippines. He had been arrested in late November on Malaysian territory after fleeing Mindanao. Pleas by his attorney and family to let him stay in Malaysia for the time being had fallen on deaf ears. With Manila repeatedly insisting that there was a link between Misuari and Usama Bin Ladin, the Malaysian regime was forced to give up even its right to provide political refuge to a fellow Muslim.

The manner and timing of the surprise arrests, the death-sentences and Misuari's deportation are explained by a deep sense of fear in Malaysia because its pariah status seems to be here to stay, despite its vigorous anti-Islam (or, in the current parlance, anti-terrorist) campaign. While the government's relations with Washington had been deteriorating because of the US's cautious 'support' of the reformasi movement, contacts have been improved by the many 'public relations' exercises of the Mahathir regime to please the US.

Singapore had at one time accused Malaysia of not cooperating in the fight against 'terrorism', claiming that if it had arrested two other 'terrorist suspects', Khalid al-Mirdha and Nawaf al-Azmi, when they were in Malaysia, the September 11 incidents might not have happened. The US had earlier named both as among hijackers in the ill-fated planes that destroyed the WTC. Such far-fetched allegations had caused shivers in the archipelago, but this time the Malaysian reaction was one of fear instead of denials. Hours later, Singapore, whose military ties with the US and Israel have been a source of anxiety for Muslims in the region, announced the arrest of 14 Muslim citizens accused of planning to blow up the US and Israeli embassies. It was the first time the Chinese-dominated regime had arrested local 'militants'.

What amuses analysts is the regime's claim that the arrests were made following information obtained from captured al-Qaeda fighters when the US is at its wit's end trying to find members of al-Qaeda! As it had hoped, Singapore drew immediate praise from Washington even before the charges against them were proven. "We applaud this specific action. We think it reflects their determination to fight against international terrorism," said state department spokesman Richard Boucher.

It was essentially a warning to other governments in the region to do likewise, particularly Muslim Indonesia and Malaysia, who fear that Singapore, America's favourite child in the region, is fast becoming the 'India' of Southeast Asia. Singapore provides substantial naval facilities for the US, including support services for American aircraft-carriers; its army is trained by Israel. The island is also used as a base by a US Navy logistics unit.

Indonesia has already performed well, with arrests of 'Muslim extremists' after a series of unexplained church and shopping-mall bombings. This left the erstwhile west-bashing Mahathir in the wilderness, so it was time for him to go beyond mere domestic party politics in persecuting Muslim activists.

That explains the latest thirteen ISA detainees: professionals, businessmen and academicians, abducted from their homes to make newspaper headlines the next day. This was followed by an assurance from Malaysia that it would back fully the US's "war on terrorism", as if it were remorseful that it had not supported the American bombardment of Afghan civilians at the summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (see Crescent, Nov 16-30, 2001).

But, like most Muslim leaders press ganged into this 'war', a defensive Mahathir has been forced to try to turn it to his own political advantage, finding 'terrorists' in his own backyard, and certain that the worst of them are members of PAS, his political archenemy.