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FBI Director Discusses Terrorism in Malaysia - 2002-03-14

The Director of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation Thursday cast doubts on reports that Malaysia was a staging ground for the terrorist attacks on the United States. The FBI chief stopped in Kuala Lumpur on an Asia-Pacific tour to strengthen law-enforcement cooperation in a region Washington describes as one of the next fronts in the war on terrorism.

The director of the Federal Bureau of investigation, Robert Mueller, Thursday met Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and senior police officers as part of a trip aimed at bolstering the fight against international terrorism. Mr. Mueller indicated he believes Islamic extremists have used Malaysia as a meeting point. But he dismissed reports that his organization believes Malaysia was a staging area for the September 11 attacks in the United States.

Mr. Mueller characterized as inaccurate a report by Newsweek magazine that said the FBI believes Malaysia was used as a launch-pad for the attacks. The report angered the Malaysian government, which banned distribution of the magazine.

The FBI director said meetings did occur in Malaysia, but added that they also occurred in other countries around the world. He indicated, however, the U.S. government might seek to extradite suspected terrorists detained in Malaysia.

Malaysia has arrested several dozen Muslims since the September attacks and is holding them under the controversial Internal Security Act that allows unlimited detention without trial.

Some of those detained reportedly held meetings in Malaysia with Islamic extremists who have been linked to the al-Qaida terrorist organization. Others have been linked to an organization that seeks to establish an Islamic state in the region and allegedly planned terrorist attacks in other countries here.

In recent months, Singaporean authorities have arrested a dozen individuals accused of planning attacks against western embassies there and Philippine authorities have arrested an individual they say confessed to staging an attack in Manila that killed 22 people.

Mr. Mueller earlier visited Australia and New Zealand. After Malaysia, he flew to Singapore and then goes to Indonesia and the Philippines. These countries have increased contacts among their security forces since September although they differ on the degree of threat they believe is posed by international terrorist networks.