For the first time ever, Cambodia is charging one of its nationals for alleged connections to the Islamic terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah. The move suggests the militant movement has a wider presence in Southeast Asia than earlier believed.
A court in Phnom Penh charged a Cambodian Muslim on Thursday with participation in international terrorism and links to the Southeast Asian militant group, Jemaah Islamiyah.
The accused man, Sman Esma-El, had recently returned from Thailand, where he had been studying Islam. He is the first Cambodian national to be linked to the terrorist group.
Last month, Cambodian police also arrested an Egyptian man and two Thai nationals for alleged links to the Jemaah Islamiyah.
The arrests come as the country prepares to host a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Next week's gathering will include representatives from the region's Asian and Western security partners, including U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Thailand, meanwhile, announced the arrest this week of three of its citizens, at least two of whom are said to be members of Jemaah Islamiyah. They are accused of taking part in a plot to bomb several Western embassies this month in the Thai capital Bangkok.
Last month, Thai authorities arrested a suspected leader of the Jemaah Islamiyah, Arifin bin Ali, also known as John Wong Ah Hung, extraditing him to his home country of Singapore.
The Cambodian and Thai arrests mark a geographic expansion of the battle against Jemaah Islamiyah.
The group is believed to have begun in Indonesia, where it has been blamed for the fatal bombing of a tourist resort in Bali last year.
Australian scholar Harold Crouch, who has studied the movement, says that its loose organizational structure allows it to spread.
"Then there's a cell in Singapore that was planning on blowing up the American Embassy in the end of 2001," he said. "Now you also had Islamic movements in southern Thailand - it would be surprising if there was not some link with people in southern Thailand. Now it appears that there's some in Cambodia as well."
The militant movement supports the creation of a pan-Islamic state, linking the predominantly Muslim nations of Malaysia and Indonesia with the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, all of which have Muslim minorities.
This week's arrests in Thailand centered around Narathiwat, a Muslim-majority province on the border with Malaysia.