Malaysian Cops Arrest Fugitives Believed to Be Part of Al Qaeda-Linked Group

Malaysia arrested five suspected members of a Southeast Asian Islamic militant group that has links to Al Qaeda and is the main suspect in the weekend bombing of a bar in Bali, police said Wednesday.

The suspects are alleged to belong to Jemaah Islamiyah, which wants to establish a pan-Islamic state in Southeast Asia and allegedly plotted to bomb the U.S. Embassy and other Western targets in Singapore.

The detainees are not believed to have had any involvement in Saturday's bombings in Bali, which killed at least 183 people, officials said. However, he said the four had been in contact with militants in neighboring countries.

Inspector-General of Police Norian Mai announced the arrests of four of the men. The fifth was taken into custody later, a government official said on condition of anonymity.

The suspects have been in contact with militants in neighboring countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and one, Nik Abdul Rahman Mustapha, took an oath of loyalty before Osama bin Laden, the official said.

Another allegedly recruited Malaysian students in the past to go to Pakistan and join Islamic extremist groups in neighboring Afghanistan.

Norian said the arrests -- the latest in a string of detentions over the past year -- meant that "just a few more" suspected members of Jemaah Islamiyah remained free in Malaysia.

Norian characterized the suspects as a threat to national security. They were detained under the Internal Security Act, which provides for detention without trial.

"They were planning something for the interest of their organization," Norian said. He did not elaborate.

In the past year, Malaysian authorities have arrested 67 suspected militants accused of belonging to Jemaah Islamiyah. One detainee allegedly hosted a meeting at his apartment in January 2000 attended by two of the Sept. 11 hijackers and Al Qaeda operatives.

In neighboring Singapore, the government has arrested 31 people since December, mostly Jemaah Islamiyah members, whom officials say plotted to blow up the U.S. Embassy, water pipelines, the Defense Ministry and a chemical industrial estate.

The suspects ranged in age from 28 to 45. Three were self-employed businessmen, one a civil engineer and one a religious schoolteacher.

"We will persist until we are satisfied that this group no longer poses a threat to our country," Norian said.

Norian said police were taking "necessary precautions" to prevent terrorism in Malaysia, especially after the weekend bombing in neighboring Indonesia that killed more than 180 people, mostly foreign tourists.

Police intensified surveillance earlier this week at all embassies in Kuala Lumpur, public nightspots and other places frequented by tourists nationwide.

Officials said, there had been no indication of any fresh security threat in this moderate, predominantly Muslim country. Malaysia is considered one of Southeast Asia's most peaceful countries, and militant Islamic sentiments are held by a tiny minority.