Four foreigners arrested this weekend in Phnom Penh were freed Monday, as police admitted they had acted on false information that the men had purchased explosives and could be tied to a terror cell.
The four men—a Pakistani, a Sri Lankan, a Malaysian and a Bangladeshi—were arrested Saturday night at the bar and restaurant they run in the Boeng Kak lake backpacker district.
Authorities remained hush about the arrests until Monday, when Chhay Sinarith of the Interior Ministry’s information department said the men had been falsely accused and were subsequently released.
The arrests were prompted by reports police received Friday that the men had bought 2 kg of explosives, he told reporters.
“We have been checking up on them, but they were not involved in this,” he said.
As Phnom Penh hosts an Asean parliamentarians’ summit this week, police have bulked up their presence following last week’s car bomb attack that killed nine people in Jakarta. Cambodia has not seen an organized terror attack inside its borders, though reports surfaced last year that members of the al-Qaida-linked regional terror group Jemaah Islamiyah, including its operations chief, Hambali, had passed through the country and possibly acquired Cambodian passports.
The anxiety around a possible attack might have led to the hasty arrests, Chhay Sinarith said.
“We are ensuring strict security, so when we heard this information [about purchasing explosives], we thought, ‘we have to do something,’” he said. “We need to be sure [of security] first, because if we are careless something could happen.”
Chhay Sinarith did not say when the men were released. Their business remained closed Monday afternoon.
Municipal police sources said the misguided arrests stemmed from a personal dispute involving the men and a Cambodian Muslim, who spread false information to authorities.