Although the government and a few embassies are investigating reports of purported terrorist threats against three diplomatic installations in Phnom Penh, several officials say they do not believe the danger is real.
The alleged anti-Western threat against the US Embassy and two other embassies supposedly comes from an Islamic extremist group linked to Osama bin Laden, who is accused of masterminding two US Embassy bombings in Africa in 1998.
An English-language newspaper that publishes sporadically, The Vision, reported Friday that Muslim separatist guerrillas and others in the region are being recruited to join training camps to be established near the Thai-Cambodian-Lao border. The Malaysian-operated paper cited “diplomatic and foreign military intelligence sources.”
Nathapol Khantahiran, first secretary at the Thai Embassy, said he has notified Bangkok of the alleged threat, but he hasn’t heard of any Islamic training camps along the border. “So far, I don’t believe it,” he said. “But since it was published for the public, we have to investigate it.”
Chea Mon, a deputy commander for Military Region 4 based in Siem Reap town, said there is no sign of terrorism training taking place. “It’s an invented story that some opportunity maker is using to stir the political atmosphere,” Chea Mon said.
Khieu Kanharith, a government spokesman, said police in border areas have been asked to investigate the alleged threat. He said he also informed Prime Minister Hun Sen of the report.
“The prime minister said if he [bin Laden] is here, we will capture him and hand him to the US,” Khieu Kanharith said.
The US Embassy announced Saturday it is providing only emergency services to US citizens because of the threat. The action was in response to the newspaper article, an embassy official said.
“We take any threat seriously,” US Ambassador Kent Wiedemann said Monday. “We’re taking the ‘better safe than sorry’ approach.”
The US State Department and the embassy are assessing the credibility of the threat, Wiedemann said.