Extradition May Be Sought in Terror Arrests

With all 50 foreign Islamic teachers and their dependents complying with government orders to leave Cambodia before Saturday, efforts were underway Friday to extradite the three alleged Islamic militants charged with terrorism in Phnom Penh on Wednesday, a senior police officer claimed.

Speaking on condition of anon­ymity, the police officer said on Friday that the Egyptian Embas­sy in Bangkok has been cooperating with Phnom Penh to extradite Esam Mohammed Khidr Ali, 41, the director of the Om-Alqura organ­ization.

The government also intended to extradite detained Thai Mus­lims Abdul Azi Haji Chiming, 35, and Muhammad Yalaludin Mad­ing, 41, the officer said.

Neither Thai nor Egyptian authorities were available for com­ment Friday.

All three men were charged on Wednesday with international terrorist acts and linked to the Jemaah Islamiyah, the group linked to last year’s bombings in Bali, Indonesia.

The Om-Alqura organization, for whom they worked, was also branded a front for radicals.

“[We have] plans to continue fighting and investigating against members of this group,” said the officer, adding that a Yemeni man remains at large in the country.

Phnom Penh Deputy Police Chief Chhay Sinarith, said Friday that 50 staff and family working for Om-Alqura had left by Friday afternoon.

The government had set a deadline for their departure at 6 am today.

Sixteen Yemeni, 11 Thai, 10 Pakistani, four Egyptian, six Jordanian, two Nigerian and an Albanian national left Cambodia, said Chhay Sinarith.

US Embassy officials have yet to comment on claims by the Cambodia government that it was US information, received in the last few weeks, that provided the final evidence linking Om-Alqura to criminal activity. Calls to embassy officials went unanswered for the third day Friday.

A police official familiar with the organization said on Thurs­day that suspicion had surrounded the Saudi Arabian-funded Om-Alqura Institute since 2000, but its seeming strong connections with high-ranking officials put it above question. The official joined a chorus of concern over the timing of the arrests.

“We knew about this group for a long time. I’m surprised they have evidence only now,” said the police officer.

Several Asian diplomats based in Phnom Penh were divided this week on the arrests with one diplomat saying he was skeptical authorities have significant evidence implicating the three in terrorism.

The official also questioned why a secret militant cell would base themselves in a very high-profile Islamic school.

While the official could not discount that militants may be in Cambodia, he doubted the three fitted the profile and also questioned the timing of the arrests just week before the visit of US Secretary of State Colin Powell. A second Asian diplomat, however, said Thursday the arrests were the product of cooperation between the US and Cambodia and plans to arrest circulated last month.

The diplomat said it was unlikely the three suspects were planning any sort of imminent attack, but were likely working to radicalize the country’s Cham population.

Ninety percent of Chams still belong to the Shafi’i Muslim sect, but a growing percentage of their estimated 700,000 number have joined the ultra-orthodox Wahabi branch of Islam since the mid-1990s, said a member of the Cham community on Thursday.

The promotion of the Wahabi has followed the injection of money from the Middle East, mainly Saudi Arabia, to build Islamic schools and Mosques in the country, the Cham member said.

“They split the Cham. It is not good for my people,” he said.

Cambodian Islamic leaders are adamant that religious fundamentalism does not mean militancy.

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