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Militant group linked to attacks

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 3, 2002

Asian law enforcement officials investigating an alleged plot by Muslim extremists to blow up Western embassies and U.S. naval vessels in Singapore have uncovered a sophisticated underground group affiliated with the al-Qaida terrorist network in Southeast Asia that aided participants in the Sept. 11 attacks.

The group, known as Jemaah Islamiah, or Islamic Group, had cells in Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia and also operated in the Philippines, the Washington Post and New York Times reported. They said the militant group was directed by a radical Indonesian cleric who served as a conduit between his eager followers in Asia and al-Qaida leaders in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

The cleric, Riduan Isamuddin, who uses the alias Hambali, played host to two men in Malaysia in January 2000 who later went on to hijack the American Airlines Flight 77 plane that crashed into the Pentagon, a Malaysian government official told the newspapers. Later that year, the official said, Hambali ordered a member of the Malaysian cell to provide accommodations and a letter of reference to another visitor to Malaysia, Zacarias Moussaoui, a man now in U.S. custody, charged in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks.

Hambali, who is on the run, has emerged at the center of a global investigation into Jemaah Islamiah, an organization whose scope and complexity appears to have been similar to the operations of Osama bin Laden's followers in Europe and the United States.

Government officials said the overriding aim of the group, which was created in Malaysia in the mid-1990s by Hambali and a fellow Indonesian cleric, Abubakar Baasyir, was to overthrow secular governments in the region and create an Islamic state linking Malaysia, Indonesia and the Muslim-dominated southern Philippines.

Tribal fighters regroup, prepare for assault

KABUL, Afghanistan -- After burying their dead, tribal fighters with fresh stocks of guns and ammunition prepared Saturday for a second assault on an eastern Afghan provincial capital, where fighting this past week killed at least 61 people.

Warlord Bacha Khan's last attempt to take Gardez ended with his fighters retreating to the hills after two days of bloody fighting. But they planned to attack the dilapidated town again today, having been rearmed with 10 truckloads of weapons and ammunition, Khan's brother, Wazir Khan, told the Associated Press.

"They killed 11 of our people, we buried them, and tomorrow we will begin fighting again," Wazir Khan said by telephone.

In other developments:

Mullah Muhammad Abbas, a former Taliban government minister and sometime commander, was reported to have recently visited the town that U.S. commandos hit a week ago, when they killed or seized dozens of people in what Afghan officials are calling a tragic mistake. The reported presence of Abbas in his hometown, Oruzgan, may partly explain why the Americans struck two compounds there, killing 21 soldiers.

Three days after President Bush said North Korea was part of an "axis of evil," leader Kim Jong Il said his regime may increase the capabilities of the world's fifth-largest army to prevent an invasion. "No force on earth can overpower these great forces firmly determined not to allow any aggressors to dare invade the inviolable territory of our country but wipe them out to the last one at the risk of their lives," the official Korean Central News Agency quoted Kim as saying.

Authorities in Yemen have detained 115 foreign students for illegal residence and questioned them about links to radical Islamic groups, an Interior Ministry official.

A Chinese wildlife park offered Kabul's decimated zoo a lion to replace Marjan, the grenade-blinded big cat who died last month, China's official Xinhua News Agency reported.

-- Information from the Washington Post and New York Times was used in this report.

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