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Asia eyes radical Islam

Asia eyes radical Islam

Author: Patrick Chalmers, Reuters News Agency
Publication: The Globe and Mail
Date: November 17, 2001
URL: http://www.globeandmail.com/generated/hubs/20011117/internationalAsia.html

Indonesia, Malaysia and their neighbours take united front against Muslim militants

KAMUNTING, MALAYSIA -- Mohamad, a retired soldier living near Malaysia's high-security Kamunting detention centre, is unimpressed by talk of rising Islamic militancy.

Wearing the skull cap and long robes of a devout Muslim and declining midday food or drink as he prepares for the holy fasting month of Ramadan, Mohamad talks quietly under the gaze of nearby riot police and their two water cannon.

"The biggest problem we have is with freedom of speech," he said, pausing to watch the roundup and arrest of a few dozen opposition party supporters who had come to protest against the detention of family members and friends in the camp up the road.

But the countries in the region put a very different spin on the dangers of a growth in Muslim militancy in a world increasingly obsessed with radical Islam.

Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, mainly Muslim Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand have all linked bomb blasts or attacks to Islamic militants.

The Sept. 11 suicide attacks on the United States put the spotlight back on Muslim militancy in the region, home to more than one-fifth of the world's 1.2 billion Muslims.

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad says the world's more than 50 Muslim countries face threats from militants who are exploiting Islam for political ends.

"These people feel, believe, that they can overthrow these governments and set up what they call a Muslim country. Malaysia is not excepted," he said in a speech at the launch of an electronic version of the Koran, the Muslim holy book.

Malaysia has acknowledged that some of the suspects in the U.S. hijackings visited as tourists. Indonesia and Malaysia are among 25 Muslim or mainly Muslim states whose young men Washington plans to subject to longer checks before issuing them U.S. visas.

A November summit of leaders from the 10 members of the Association of South East Asian Nations in Brunei agreed terrorism was one of its biggest challenges.

They issued instructions to enhance co-operation and intelligence-sharing between their security agencies to counter transborder crime and terrorism.

Southeast Asian army chiefs signed a declaration in Manila on Nov. 15 pledging to combat terrorism.

"We are all mindful of the recent global incidents and we view terrorism as a threat to the region," Philippine army chief Lieutenant-General Jaime de los Santos said at the signing.

Since early August, Malaysia has arrested more than a dozen supporters of Parti Islam se-Malaysia, known as PAS, its main opposition party, accusing them of forming an Afghan-inspired militant group to overthrow the government and set up a purist Islamic state.

Mr. Mahathir alluded to wider ambitions among those arrested, saying they planned an Islamic union incorporating Indonesia and the Philippines.

In mid-August, Indonesian police blamed a small group of Malaysian Muslim hard-liners for bombings in Jakarta, including attacks on two churches, which wounded 70.

However, there has been no firm evidence produced to link that group with PAS supporters arrested in Malaysia.

Despite the existence of several Islamic separatist movements, Southeast Asia's half dozen countries with Muslim majorities or large minorities have produced no evidence of pan-Islamic militancy.

Diplomats and security analysts say ties between militant groups are more likely to be indirect.

Thousands of Southeast Asian Muslims have attended the madrassas or religious schools of Pakistan often associated with Afghanistan's hard-line Taliban.

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