KUALA LUMPUR — Terrorism suspects from Jordan, Nigeria, Syria and Yemen have been detained in Malaysia, activists said Thursday, as a report linked them to the Nigerian behind the botched Christmas plane bombing.
Malaysia announced Wednesday it had arrested 10 people for "acts of terrorism" and said they were members of an international terror outfit tracked down in cooperation with foreign intelligence groups.
The government-linked New Straits Times said the 10 were believed to be associated with Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian student accused of trying to detonate explosives on a Northwest Airlines plane approaching Detroit.
"It was learnt that foreign anti-terrorism agencies informed Malaysian authorities that the 10 were linked to Abdulmutallab and that they were in Malaysia," said the daily, which did not cite any sources for its report.
Malaysian Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said Wednesday that the suspects were being held under the Internal Security Act (ISA), which allows for indefinite detention without trial.
Syed Ibrahim Syed Noh, chairman of the Abolish ISA Movement, said that 50 people were detained on January 21 as they attended a religious lecture on the fringes of the capital Kuala Lumpur.
He said the majority were released the following day but that 12 remained in detention -- including a Jordanian, two Nigerians, one Malaysian, four Syrians and one Yemeni.
Syed Ibrahim said the detentions may have been a response to international pressure on Malaysia to crack down on terrorism, particularly after US warnings that militants were planning attacks on foreigners at Borneo island resorts.
"In any case, the ISA is a convenient tool to use to avert pressure by making foreigners -- in this case mostly from the Middle East region -- into scapegoats," he said.
Muhamad Yunus Zainal Abidin, 29, said at the press conference that he was among those detained during the lecture by Syrian preacher Aiman Al Dakkak, who was also taken into custody.
He said that authorities questioned him over Aiman's activities, but that he was not asked about the Christmas Day bomb plot.
Malaysia's controversial ISA has been used in the past against alleged militants including members of Southeast Asian extremist group Jemaah Islamiyah, which is linked to Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network.
One JI member released in 2008 is accused of hosting a planning meeting in Kuala Lumpur ahead of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
"Over the years Al-Qaeda has been trying to influence events in Southeast Asia and set up bases here but most of these elements have been contained so far," said John Harrison, manager of terrorism research at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.
"We cannot rule out that the recent Malaysian arrests could possibly signal an attempt by the group to try and either set up new operations here or reactivate old bases in the region," he told AFP.
Home minister Hishammuddin on Thursday refused to confirm or deny the New Straits Times report and said Malaysia would not release further information that could jeopardise the ongoing investigation.
"I think this is a very good wake-up call because the playground for the terrorist is no longer one location. In this borderless world that we live in now, the whole world is their playground," he told reporters
Abdulmutallab, allegedly trained in Yemen by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, is accused of trying to detonate explosives sewn into his underwear before being tackled and overpowered by passengers and crew.
In an audio message broadcast by Al-Jazeera television, bin Laden praised him as a "hero" and warned US President Barack Obama that the foiled plot was meant as a similar message to the 9/11 strikes.
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