Court Probes Thais’ Links To Hambali

Two Thai Muslims accused of involvement in the Jemaah Is­lamiyah terrorist network were questioned in Phnom Penh Mun­icipal Court Thursday morning, more than one year after their arrest.

Muhammad Yalaludin Mading and Abdul Azi Haji Chiming—along with a third suspect, Egy­ptian Esam Mohammed Khidr Ali—have been detained for almost 15 months without trial.

The two Thai suspects maintained their innocence Thursday.

“We are not terrorists. The judge will release me,” Abdul Azi Haji Chiming told reporters before his interview.

“I was accused by the government because the government wants money from the US,” he said.

The three men were arrested in May 2003, shortly before a visit by US Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Cambodian officials have often mentioned the US Federal Bureau of Investigation’s assistance in the case.

The US’ interest in the case has spawned accusations that Cam­bodian authorities are trying to cozy up to a wealthy nation by prosecuting innocent Muslims.

Om Yentieng, adviser to Hun Sen, refuted the criticism Thursday, saying, “The government does not arrest anyone for money. It is for the world’s security.”

The interviews were ordered as “further investigation” by presiding Judge Ya Sokhorn at aborted proceedings in February.

Following Thursday’s closed-door meetings with Investigating Judge Buning Bunnary, defense attorney Kao Soupha said the judge asked questions irrelevant to the charges.

“The judge asked my clients when they came to Cambodia, why did they come. She said she had heard that the Muslim religion has taught people to do bad things,” Kao Soupha said.

“My clients said, ‘No, that is not true. It only teaches people to do good things.’”

The three are charged under Article 3 of Cambodia’s law against terrorism, which pertains to killing or attempting to kill for the purpose of terrorism and carries a life sentence.

Kao Soupha also said that Buning Bunnary asked the two if they knew Riduan Isamuddin, the Indonesian better known as Hambali, who is believed to be the operations coordinator of Jemaah Islamiyah who was hiding in Cambodia before his arrest in Thailand almost exactly one year ago.

Abdul Azi Haji Chiming was introduced to Hambali once, Kao Soupha said. But his client did not know the true identity of Hambali, who hid in Cambodia under an assumed name, until after Hambali’s arrest, he added.

“He didn’t have any plans to do anything with Hambali in Cambodia,” the lawyer said.

Om Yentieng disagreed. “The arrests of those three people were linked to the arrest of Hambali,” the premier’s adviser said

Kao Soupha said he will ask the investigating judge to drop the charges after she finishes interviewing his third client in the case.

Buning Bunnary slipped out of the courthouse without answering reporters’ questions.


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