PM Warns of Militants in Cambodia

Islamic militants have based themselves in Cambodia, but the country’s ethnic Muslim Cham community should not fear being targeted in operations to root out foreign religious radicals, Prime Minister Hun Sen said Thurs­day.

Two Thais and one Egyptian were charged Wednesday over their alleged links to international terrorism and the militant Jemaah Islamiyah group, and Hun Sen said Thursday foreigners had planted themselves in Cambodia in preparation for future terrorist activities.

“All Islamists across the Kingdom of Cambodia, don’t worry at all, because what happened in Phnom Penh involved foreigners who came to hide themselves in our country,” Hun Sen said in a speech broadcast on national radio.

“It is good luck that we found them,” Hun Sen said, warning that a terrorist attack would not discriminate between Cambo­dians and foreigners, while the real victim would be Cambodia’s reputation.

Thai Muslims Abdul Azi Haji Chiming, 35, and Muhammad Yalaludin Mading, 41, and Egypt­ian Esam Mohammed Khidr Ali, 41, were charged in the Phnom Penh Municipal Court Wednesday with international terrorist acts linked to Jemaah Islamiyah.

Cambodian police and government officials said Thursday the arrests followed information provided by the US government and that a fourth suspect from Yemen was being hunted.

US Embassy officials could not be reached to confirm the government’s claims.

US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher praised the arrests in Washington Wednesday.

“Let me say we are very pleased that the Royal Government of Cambodia has taken action against the alleged terrorists,” Boucher told reporters at Wednesday’s daily press briefing.

Cambodian police officials said the most recent evidence against the suspects followed the recent suicide attacks on a housing complex for Westerners in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

According to a senior police official, telephone calls linked a suspect in Saudi Arabia with one of the suspects in Phnom Penh.

None of the officers involved in the case would disclose on Thursday any specific evidence gathered against the suspects.

The Om-Alqura Institute in Kandal province, where the three men worked, has been ordered shut along with a second, smaller school run by the organization in Kompong Chhnang province, said Police General Sok Phal, director of the Information Department at the Interior Ministry.

Some 600 students studied in Kandal and 30 students studied at the school in Rolea Ba’ier district of Kompong Chhnang province, Sok Phal said.

Students at the Kandal school were packing their things and heading home on Thursday. Provincial traffic police were stationed outside the school to search through the students’ belongings.

Several teachers from the school maintained on Wednesday that they had nothing to do with international terrorism.

A 26-year-old teacher from Pakistan, who only identified himself as Ubaib, said he was short of funds for a ticket and refuted any connection between the teachers and terrorism.

“We don’t like Osama bin Laden. We just like teaching Cambodian students,” Ubaib said.

He was also unsure if the deportation order covered him as he had been married to a Cambodian Cham women for the past three years.

“I don’t know what to do. I have just enough money to eat,” Ubaib said.

Around 50 people—foreign Islamic teachers and their dependents—have until 6 am Saturday to leave the country, Phnom Penh Deputy Police Chief Chhay Sinarith said Thursday.

“If they do not get out of the country within this period then we will collect them and put them in one place and then expel them,” Chhay Sinarith said.

Chhay Sinarith also said the Om-Alqura organization was spending $50,000 per month on the construction of schools and mosques in Cambodia.

Police are also searching for a Yemeni national allegedly involved in the group, Chhay Sinarith said.

(Additional reporting by Kevin Doyle)

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