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Singapore Minister Warns Against al-Qaida in Southeast Asia - 2002-03-24

Singapore's senior minister, Lee Kuan Yew, has called on government leaders in Southeast Asia to deny the al-Qaida terror group a safe haven as members flee Afghanistan. Mr. Lee, writing in Forbes magazine, warns the al-Qaida network could establish bases in the region from which it could launch attacks against U.S. targets.

Singapore Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew told Forbes magazine that, following the military action in Afghanistan, the al-Qaida terror network of Osama bin Laden now needs a new safe haven. Mr. Lee warned that, if the al-Qaida network were successful in setting up new bases in the region, the group could be in a position to launch attacks against U.S. missions, military personnel, ships and aircraft.

The al-Qaida network and Osama bin Laden have been cited as directly responsible for the planning and terror attacks in New York and Washington on September 11 last year.

The United States, together with its coalition partners, are continuing to carry out military operations in Afghanistan against the al-Qaida network as well as supporters of the former Taleban regime. Mr. Lee says the al-Qaida network, driven out of Afghanistan, now needs a safe haven to regroup.

Last December, Singapore intelligence operatives arrested 13 suspected members of a militant Muslim organization, Jemaah Islamiyah. The group was allegedly planning to blow up the U.S. embassy and other targets in Singapore.

The Jemaah Islamiyah is a clandestine Islamic group based in Indonesia but also reported to have support in Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines.

Mr. Lee, the founder of modern Singapore and the nation-state's first prime minister, remains an influential figure in the cabinet and the region.

In the Forbes article Mr. Lee says, had the United States not destroyed al-Qaida's Afghan bases and scattered its leaders, the network would have grown and penetrated deep into Southeast Asia.

The United States says several Muslim rebel groups with suspected al-Qaida connections are active in Southeast Asia, including the Philippines and Singapore. But other regional analysts say many of the Muslim rebel groups operate largely independently and focus on local rather than international issues.

Currently, the United States has more than 600 troops in the southern Philippines advising and training local troops against Abu Sayyaf rebels.

On Friday, both Indonesia and the United States denied published reports that the Bush administration was planning to deploy troops in Indonesia on supposed evidence that al-Qaida members were operating there.