Malawi Deports Five Suspected Al Qaeda Members

Five men suspected of running charities that funneled money to Al Qaeda have been arrested in Malawi and were to be deported from the southern African nation, intelligence officials said Monday.

The men, all foreigners, were arrested Sunday night in the southern city of Blantyre in a joint operation involving the CIA and Malawi's National Intelligence Bureau, the intelligence officials said.

An attorney for the men, Shabir Latif, said the CIA plans to take custody of the men and transfer them to the U.S. military detention center at Guantanamo Bay (search), Cuba. The claim could not be immediately confirmed.

Richard Matiya, a senior immigration official, confirmed the arrests.

The intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the men ran charities that supplied money for Al Qaeda operations in Africa and elsewhere.

The poor, land-locked nation of Malawi (search) — which has a 20 percent Muslim population — has not been a prominent focus for Al Qaeda investigations in the past, though Malawi officials raided some mosques last year and questioned detainees about links to Usama bin Laden's terror network.

Africa is considered a relatively easy target for terrorists, with its porous borders and relatively lax police presence.

Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for twin 1998 truck bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya (search) and Tanzania (search). The terrorist organization has also been blamed for the suicide bombing of an Israeli-owned beach hotel in Kenya last year. In the same Kenya attack, two missiles narrowly missed an airliner carrying Israeli vacationers.

Latif, the men's lawyer, told High Court Judge Healey Potani that his clients were arrested without being told the charges. Security officers, without a warrant, searched the men's houses and seized computers and money as the men were blindfolded and taken to an undisclosed location in the capital, Latif said.

The judge ordered the government to bring the men to court within 48 hours to inform them of charges or else they would be freed on bail.

The men were identified as Mahmud Sardar Issa, a Sudanese who heads a charitable organization called Islamic Zakat Fund Trust in Blantyre; Fahad Ral Bahli, a Saudi who is the director of the Malawi branch of Registered Trustees of the Prince Sultan Bin Aziz Special Committee on Relief; Turkish nationals Arif Ulusam, a Blantyre restaurant owner, and Ibrahim Itabaci, executive director of Bedir International School; and Khalifa Abdi Hassan, a Kenyan Islamic scholar working for the Moslem Association of Malawi.

American officials in Malawi would not comment on the arrests, but Robin Diallo, director of U.S. Information Services here, said Malawi's government had been cooperative in the counterterrorism efforts since the Sept. 11 attacks.

President Bakili Muluzi "and the government of Malawi have been partners in the fight against global terrorism," said Diallo. "We share a common goal."