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S'pore arrests 'future' JI leaders

Hambali, above, set up Indonesia's JI cell in 1999, Singapore police say.
Hambali, above, set up Indonesia's JI cell in 1999, Singapore police say.

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SINGAPORE (Reuters) -- Singapore has arrested two Muslims trained in Pakistan and Afghanistan to eventually lead the al Qaeda-linked militant group Jemaah Islamiah, the government has said.

It said the two Singaporeans, arrested in late October, were part of a group called al-Ghuraba, a Pakistan-based cell of the Jemaah Islamiah, believed by investigators to be the Southeast Asian wing of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda.

The two men were groomed by the brother of Hambali, a militant accused of masterminding bombings in Southeast Asia, in handling weapons and explosives and carrying out espionage and urban warfare, the government said.

"The cell was set up in 1999 by Indonesian JI operations commander, Hambali, for the purpose of developing young JI members to become trained operatives and future leaders."

Jemaah Islamiah has been linked to a string of attacks across the region, including the bombings on the Indonesian island of Bali in October last year that killed 202 people.

Singapore has already detained 33 suspected Muslim militants after foiling a JI plot to blow up Western targets in the city state in 2001.

The two men, Muhammad Arif Bin Naharudin, 20, and Muhammad Amin Bin Mohamed Yunos, 20, are being held under the Internal Security Act, which allows for detention without trial, after their arrest in Singapore on October 23 and 25.

"Both Arif and Amin were among several students who were talent-spotted by the JI leadership to be groomed to become the next generation of key operatives and leaders in the JI organization," the government said. "There were also indications that Hambali was prepared to assign some of them to the al Qaeda for operations."

Police detained the men while they were on a trip home.

Pakistan's interior ministry, however, denied knowledge of al-Ghuraba.

"During our investigation al-Ghuraba never came up, this is very sure," Abdul Malik, deputy director of Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency, told Reuters. "We don't know anything or any group code-named al-Ghuraba."

Hambali, described by President George W. Bush as "one of the world's most lethal terrorists," was arrested by Thai and U.S. agents in Thailand in August.

Treason charge

His brother, Gun Gun Rusman Gunawan, was among six Indonesian students detained in Pakistan in September for suspected terror links.

The two Singaporeans had associated with the Indonesians in the Pakistani city of Karachi, a Singapore official said.

Shedding light on the schooling of Asian Islamic radicals, Singapore said al-Ghuraba was originally led by Abdul Rahim, son of Indonesia's radical Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Ba'asyir.

Ba'asyir has been accused of being JI's spiritual leader and was convicted of treason in September.

Hambali's brother later took control of al-Ghuraba, the Singapore statement said.

Arif and Amin originally studied in Johor, Malaysia, before they were handpicked to join al-Ghuraba, it said.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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