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Experts Concerned About al-Qaida Plot in Singapore - 2002-01-14

In Singapore, officials warn their countrymen to be vigilant after the detention of 13 men suspected of plotting terrorist attacks. The extent of the plot is a concern to some security experts.

The Singapore government is asking neighboring countries to help locate several suspects who have fled the country as it continues investigating terrorist cells it says are linked to the al-Qaida group.

Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong says Asian leaders must act firmly and rapidly to address the threat posed by terrorist networks. The al-Qaida group is accused of organizing the September 11 attacks in the United States, as well as other attacks around the world.

The co-editor of the Asia-Pacific Security Outlook, Richard Baker, says Singapore's report about the arrests is unique because it details the elaborate nature of the plot. Mr. Baker, who is based at Hawaii's East-West Center, says the arrests highlight the competence of Singapore's security services, but also says they are cause for dismay. "The fact that an al-Qaida-connected operation was able to run for as long as it has, and to develop that kind plan in Singapore, definitely has to make you wonder what may be happening in other parts of the region, where the security forces may not be quite as immediately on top of the situation," he said.

Singapore authorities have detained 13 men on charges of terrorism-related activities, and say eight of them received military training in Afghanistan. The government says it has documents and a videotape seized in Afghanistan that show the group plotted to attack U.S. Navy ships, buses carrying U.S. military personnel, and the embassies of the United States, Israel, Britain and Australia.

The government says the detainees belong to the Jemmah Islamiyah group and that they had ties to Islamic militants in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. The Malaysian government has detained several dozen Islamists on charges of plotting to overthrow the government, but most officials have expressed doubt over reports linking al-Qaida to groups in the region.

Mr. Baker says some terrorist groups in the region may be linked by funding and personal contacts, but he doubts there are many extensive networks here. "My suspicion is that those are rather small numbers compared to the indigenous organizations that are operating in those other countries, such as Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines or the Laskar Jihad in Indonesia, which are basically home-grown and come out of their own grievances and their own conflicts," said Richard Baker.

Nevertheless, the Asia security specialist says the Singapore arrests underscore the fact that terrorism has become a global threat and that governments must work harder together to combat it.