Terror Case Stalled by Bungled Proceedings

The prosecution of three Mus­lim foreigners who have been detained nearly 15 months without trial, accused of involvement in the Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist network, hit another snag on Wednesday.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court Investigating Judge Buning Bun­nary was scheduled to question the suspects in her office on Wednesday morning, as part of the “further investigation” or­dered by Judge Ya Sokhorn at a hearing in February.

But, due to miscommunication, key players, including the suspects themselves, did not turn up.

“I failed to question the suspects because the translator went to the municipal police instead of the court, and, my clerk’s mistake, he thought [the suspects] were still in Prey Sar prison,” Buning Bunnary said.

She said the suspects were moved to PJ prison last month because of security concerns at Prey Sar. Her clerk had sent the summons to the wrong prison. Buning Bunna­ry said she still worried that outside ac­com­plices might attempt a jailbreak.

Thais Muhammad Yalaludin Mading and Abdul Azi Haji Chi­m­ing and Egyptian Esam Mo­ham­med Khidr Ali were arrested at an Islamic school in Kandal province in May 2003. They are being tried with a Cambodian Cham, Sman Ismael, and a second Egyptian, Rousha Yasser, who is thought to have re­turned to his home nation.

The pre-trial detention of the four has long exceeded the six months allowed by law. The little evidence presented against them appears shaky, according to the defense lawyer and an investigating judge who has since been transferred to Kampot province.

The arrests occurred shortly before a visit by US Secretary of State Colin Powell and Cambo­dian officials have been quick to cite US involvement in the in­ves­ti­gation. Buning Bunnary said the US Federal Bu­reau of Investiga­tion is still working on the case.

At February’s aborted trial, an FBI agent said that Jemaah Is­la­mi­yah had planned attacks on the US and British Embassies here. It was unclear whether the men on trial were suspected in those plots.

The court also switched char­ges against the suspects during those proceedings. They went from being tried under Article 2 of the State of Cambodia Terror­ism Law, which pertains to kidnapping for extortion or subversion purposes, to Article 3, which pertains to killing. Neither Ya Sokhorn nor Prosecutor Yet Chakri­ya ex­plain­ed the change.

Defense attorney Kao Soupha on Wednesday expressed serious misgivings about the case’s handling, citing the lengthy detentions and his clients’ health concerns.

The investigation into the three foreign Muslims will resume next week, Buning Bunnary said.

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