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Malaysia Extends Detention of Islamic Militants - 2003-09-23

Malaysia on Tuesday extended for another two years the detention of nine suspected Islamic militants, including the son of the spiritual leader of the opposition Islamic Party. Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi says the men are from the local militant group Kumpulan Militan Malaysia, or KMM, and are still a threat to national security. Malaysia says the KMM is a component of the al Qaida-linked Southeast Asian terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah, or JI, which is believed responsible for bombings that have killed more than 200 people. JI wants to set up an Islamic state across parts of Southeast Asia. The nine men have been held for two years under Malaysia's controversial Internal Security Act, or ISA, which allows up to two years detention without trial. Under the terms of the act, the men could have walk free after two years, or be detained for another two years.

Cynthia Gabriel, Executive Director of the Kuala Lumpur human rights group, Voice of the Malaysian People or SUARAM, says more people may be detained as governments try to contain terrorism. "We believe that given the world scenario and the fact that terrorism has taken center stage and with that, deterioration of concern and priorities for human rights values and principles," she says. "What we see is that the ISA is going to continue to be used in a way which is going to be difficult for the Malaysian situation."

The men were arrested in mid-2001 and accused of belonging to the then little-known KMM, which the government says carried out contract killings and bank robberies to finance an Islamic revolution. However, the New York group Human Rights Watch says the renewed detention of the nine men might be politically motivated. It is calling on the government to try the detainees or release them.

Malaysia's main opposition group, the Pan-Malaysia Islamic party or PAS, claims the arrests are indeed political. They say they are an attempt to discredit the fundamentalist party, which denies any links to terrorists. One of the detainees, Nik Adli Nik Abdul Aziz, is the son of Nik Aziz Nik Mat, chief minister of Malaysia's northern state of Kelantan and spiritual leader of the PAS.

Over the past two years, Malaysia has detained about 70 people under the ISA and most are accused of belonging to JI. None have been charged or brought to trial.