GENERAL Sok Phal, the director of the Ministry of Interior's information department,
has said "two or three more" suspected Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) members are
being tracked by the Cambodian authorities and may be arrested soon.
Phal was speaking after the arrest of three men suspected of being members of the
Islamic extremist group. Two Thai Muslims, Muhammad Yalaludin Mading, 41, and Abdul
Azi Haji Chiming, 35 were arrested at a school in Kandal province 16 kilometers east
of the capital on May 28.
An Egyptian national, 41-year-old Esam Mohamid Khird, was arrested at his house near
Wat Phnom around the same time. His lawyer said he has since been moved from Prey
Sar prison to the military jail.
Sok Phal said a fourth man, a Pakistani national with links to JI, was also being
followed, but slipped out of the country a few days before the arrests. Phal added
that he could not reveal the evidence that led police to make the arrests because
the investigation was ongoing.
But he did confirm that the government had acted on information supplied by authorities
in the United States, and said US agents from the Central Intelligence Agency had
interrogated the men after they were arrested.
The government's move drew rare praise from US authorities and came just weeks before
the ASEAN Regional Forum, which will be held in Phnom Penh between June 16 and 21.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell and the ministers and officials of 23 other countries
The US Embassy in Phnom Penh was tight-lipped about events.
"The US seeks to work with the Cambodian government on counter-terrorism ...
[but] it is not appropriate to discuss publicly the details of any ongoing investigation,"
an embassy spokesman said.
The men's defense lawyer, Kao Soupha, told the Post that his clients were innocent,
and said there was insufficient evidence against them.
The Bangkok Post reported that the evidence was substantial enough to convince the
Thai authorities. The newspaper quoted Thailand's national police chief Sant Sarutanond
and Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, both of whom said they accepted that the two
Thai men were connected to JI, which is accused of masterminding the Bali bombings
in October last year.
As part of the crackdown, the authorities here shut the Om Al Qura Institute, a Saudi-funded
Islamic religious school where the three men were employed. They also ordered the
expulsion of its 28 teachers and their 22 dependents within 72 hours. The teachers
were from Nigeria, Pakistan, the Sudan, Thailand, Yemen and Egypt.
Prime Minister Hun Sen moved to reassure the country's 700,000 strong Cham Muslim
community that they would not be targeted by the crackdown, and accused "only
the foreigners who come to hide in our country" of being involved with JI.
Well-funded Islamic missionary groups from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have poured money
into Cambodia over the past decade in an attempt to win converts to the strict Wahabi
sect of Islam.
Staff and students expressed surprise on the day after the arrests, and students
maintained that the school, which provided free education to 600 boys, had never
encouraged fundamentalism or militancy.
"Please tell the government not to close our school because all the students
want to study, and students in Cambodia are very poor," said 19-year-old Filena
bin Soleman while waiting for a bus to Kampong Cham.
The three men were charged under Cambodia's anti-terror law, said Investigating Judge
Oun Bunna. However that law only specifies acts of terror and does not specifically
outlaw belonging to a terrorist group.
"The case is under investigation and it will take at least six months to complete,"
he said. "We are still looking for more evidence and concentrating on the financial
accounts used by the organization".
One of the men was the accountant at Om Al Qura.
It is not the first time the country has found its way on to the international terror
map. In September last year, Time magazine reported that Omar al-Faruq, a 31-year-old
Indonesian-based Kuwaiti had confessed that he was al-Qaeda's senior representative
in Southeast Asia.
Al-Faruq had been arrested the previous June and handed to US investigators. Time
cited a CIA document in which al-Faruq said he had been ordered to "plan large-scale
attacks against US interests in Indonesia, Malaysia, [the] Philippines, Singapore,
Thailand, Taiwan, Vietnam and Cambodia".