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Singapore 'terror network' broken

By Craig Francis
CNN Hong Kong

Singapore (CNN) -- Singapore believes it has broken up a network of militants targeting the U.S. embassy and American businesses after arresting 15 people with suspected links to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda group.

Security around certain embassies and other sensitive areas in Singapore has been tightened.

Police on Monday set up a roadblock outside the Israeli Embassy and armed Gurkhas -- elite Nepalese fighters who help maintain security across the region -- are guarding Singapore's American Club.

Defense Minister Tony Tan said 15 suspects arrested in Singapore in December had planned to blow up embassies and military installations, but he did not say which ones.

"Very high significance targets, embassies, some of our military bases, places like that, places that would have an impact, and significance throughout the world," Tan said at a news conference.

Swoop in Malaysia

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The arrests in Singapore over the weekend followed a similar swoop in neighboring Malaysia on Friday, raising concerns that the region's close ties to Washington could make it a target for terrorism.

"We believe that the network has been disrupted. There is no information of any imminent threat," the Singapore Ministry of Home Affairs said in a statement received by CNN on Monday.

"American establishments, including the U.S. embassy and commercial entities, were the principal targets for attack."

Singapore, which has a ten percent Muslim population, is a strong supporter of a U.S. military presence in the Southeast Asian region.

"On that, I have no doubt, no doubt whatsoever that Singaporeans, whatever their background, race, religion, will condemn such acts of terrorism and planned terrorist activities," Singapore's Foreign Minister S. Kayakumuar said.

Military targets

The U.S. Embassy in Singapore.  A possible target
The U.S. Embassy in Singapore. A possible target  

Although the Singapore Ministry of Home Affairs and U.S. Embassy remained tight-lipped over the possible military targets, the U.S naval presence in Singapore is recognized as a potential terrorist target.

Singapore boasts the only pier outside the U.S. at which a U.S. aircraft carrier can dock and hosts almost 100 U.S. Naval ship visits a year.

Terrorists with links to the al Qaeda network are believed responsible for the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in October 2000 that killed 17 U.S. Navy personnel.

The 15 suspects, comprising 14 Singaporeans and one Malaysian, were arrested under laws allowing detention without trial.

The Ministry of Home Affairs told CNN on Monday that other media reports suggesting those arrested were members of Singapore's military were misleading.

"Those arrested had completed compulsory national service duties but were not full time members of Singapore's military," the spokeswoman said.

A U.S. Embassy spokesman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the Associated Press news agency that Singapore and the United States were "cooperating closely" and the United States was confident Singapore could secure U.S. interests on the island.

Afghan connection

The 15 suspects were arrested after authorities found detailed information on bomb construction and photographs and video footage of targeted buildings in Singapore in the suspects' homes and offices.

Al Qaeda-linked materials, falsified passports and forged immigration stamps were also found, said a statement from the Ministry of Home Affairs, which oversees police and internal security.

The arrests in Singapore and Malaysia were the result of information provided by captured al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Thirteen of those arrested in Singapore were cell members of a secretive organization known as Jemaah Islamiah, according to the Ministry of Information.

The activities of this group included fund collection for terrorist groups, active surveillance of establishments in Singapore targeted for terrorist bombing, as well as attempts to procure materials for bomb construction, including large quantities of ammonium nitrate, according to the Singapore government.

Mahathir speaks out

The arrest of 13 Malaysian militants with possible links to Osama bin Laden showed Malaysia was playing its part in worldwide efforts against terrorism, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Saturday.

Malaysian police announced the arrests on Friday, saying Zacarias Moussaoui, a Frenchman indicted in the United States for conspiracy with bin Laden and al Qaeda to kill thousands of people, visited Malaysia a year before the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

"It shows that we are tough. We had promised to take action against terrorists, whether they are locals or foreigners creating trouble in our country, we detained them," Mahathir told reporters on the sidelines of a Foreign Ministry luncheon.

"We must continue in our effort to hunt them down. They have detonated bombs in Indonesia, and if they can do that there, they can always do the same here," Mahathir said.


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