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Malaysia: Extremist Muslim Group Found Guilty of Armed Revolt - 2001-12-27

A Malaysian court has found 19 members of an extremist Muslim sect guilty of armed revolt to install an Islamic government. The court is deciding on whether to impose the death penalty or life sentences.

The 19 members of the Al-Ma'unah group - including the leader, Mohamed Amin Razali - appeared in court Thursday to hear the verdict.

The high court judge, Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin said the men were guilty of waging war against the government in July 2000, in order to set up an Islamic state.

Ten other members of the group earlier this year were sentenced to 10 years in prison, after being convicted of the lesser charge of preparing to wage war.

The group had entered two military camps by posing as army officers and stole scores of rifles and thousands of rounds of ammunition.

The group later took hostages and fled into the forests of Perak state, several hundred kilometers north of Kuala Lumpur. They killed two of the hostages before surrendering to authorities after a four-day standoff.

The Al-Ma'unah group says it was fighting on behalf of suppressed Muslims, and claims to possess mystical powers. The group is not known to have links to other extremist groups or terrorist organizations, and has been characterized more as a cult.

The July 2000 incident appears to be an isolated episode.

The government has been more concerned with the Malaysian Mujahedin group, which it accuses of seeking to establish an Islamic state in southeast Asia. The government says its members received military training in Afghanistan.

Last year, authorities detained more than a dozen people on charges of collaborating with this group. They include the son of the spiritual leader of the Pan Malaysia Islamic Party - the leading opposition party in the country.

They were arrested under the controversial Internal Security Act, which allows detention without trial for individuals accused of undermining the state.

Two-thirds of Malaysia's population is Muslim, but the government advocates secular rule and inter-faith tolerance, in deference to the country's Buddhist, Hindi and Christian minorities.