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Malaysian Police Arrest Man with Suspected Ties to al-Qaida - 2002-09-27

Malaysian police have arrested a man they say is a key member of a militant Islamic group thought to have links to the al-Qaida terrorist network. Authorities are seeking eight others in connection with plots to bomb the U.S. Embassy and other targets in Singapore.

The police accuse Wan Min Wan Mat of being a local leader of Jemaah Islamiah in the southern state of Johor bordering Singapore. Mr. Wan Min is a 42-year-old university lecturer. Officials say another eight suspects are on the run.

Jemaah Islamiah allegedly has links with the al-Qaida terror network. Officials in Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines say Jemaah Islamiah members planned to bomb the U.S. Embassy and other Western and domestic targets in the region. Dozens of suspects have been arrested in all three countries.

Sam Suddin, a police spokesman, says Mr. Wan Min's arrest marks a further step in the crackdown on militant groups.

"He was on our wanted list because he is involved in a militant group in Malaysia," Mr. Suddin said of Mr. Wan Min.

Mr. Suddin also said the other suspects may have fled to Thailand, Singapore or Indonesia.

Mr. Wan Min's arrest came under Malaysia's Internal Security Act, which grants authorities wide powers to detain suspects without trail. Malaysia holds about 60 suspected Islamic militants under the law.

The Malaysian police accuse Mr. Wan Min and the other new suspects of working with two Indonesian clerics, Abu Bakar Bashir and Riduan Isamuddin. Authorities in Singapore and Malaysia suspect those men of directing the terrorist plots in the region.

The U.S. State Department this week said it is considering designating the Jemaah Islamiah group that Mr. Bashir leads, a terrorist organization.

Mr. Bashir has denied involvement in terrorist activities.

William Case is an expert on regional politics at Australia's Griffith University. He says the arrests show a small number of Islamic militants are at work in Southeast Asia.

"I think though, the numbers are still very, very small," Mr. Case said. "Those who would resort to militant action, those who use violence, I think again, are very limited in terms of numbers."

Mr. Case also says the government of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad hopes to win votes from the urban middle class by taking a tough stance against militants.

But he says rural Malaysians tend to support pro-Islamic political parties and may resent the crackdown.