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Australia Warns of Terrorist Training in Southeast Asia - 2002-04-21

Australia warned Sunday that terrorists were being trained in Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries, and it was working with the United States to combat the threat they pose to the region. Australia's Defense Minister Robert Hill said he did not expect Washington to use military force against the extremists.

Defense Minister Robert Hill told Australian television there is evidence terrorists are being trained across the Asia-Pacific region. He said he based this conclusion on intercepted communication to and from Indonesia and other countries.

The minister said Australia and the United States had exchanged information with authorities in Indonesia on the movement of suspected terrorists. He did not give specifics, but concern has been mounting in Australia as well as in the United States about terrorism in Asia since the arrest of dozens of suspected Muslim extremists in Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines following the September 11 attacks in the United States.

Western officials have said militant groups with links to al-Qaida are also operating in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, and Australia's northern neighbor.

Last month, FBI director Robert Mueller said the United States had clear evidence that members of the al-Qaida terrorist network were operating in Asia and had made attempts to secure weapons of mass destruction.

Australian authorities are also seeking access to one of its citizens held in custody over his alleged links with al-Qaida. Egypt-born Mamdouh Habib is being held by the United States in Afghanistan. He was detained last October when he was traveling from Afghanistan to Pakistan.

The Australian government says it believes Mr. Habib has close associations with Osama bin Laden's terror network in Afghanistan, a claim vigorously denied by his family in Australia.

The al-Qaida suspect was due to be moved to Camp X-ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in the coming days.