Ten terror suspects arrested in Malaysia allegedly have ties to a Nigerian suspected in the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a U.S. airliner, a news report said Thursday.
Malaysia's home minister announced the arrests Wednesday, saying they were mainly foreigners linked to an international terrorist network.
They include four men from Syria, two from Nigeria and one each from Yemen and Jordan, said Syed Ibrahim Syed Noh, head of a rights group that assists people held under Malaysia's Internal Security Act, which allows indefinite detention without trial.
They were among 50 people arrested by police on Jan. 21 while attending a weekly Islamic class with a Syrian university lecturer at a home near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's largest city, Syed Ibrahim said. The others were later released.
The government-linked New Straits Times newspaper said foreign anti-terrorism agencies told authorities the suspects were in Malaysia and were linked to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a young Nigerian man accused of trying to detonate a bomb hidden in his underwear during a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Dec. 25.
The newspaper did not say how it obtained the information or how they were linked.
Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein refused to confirm the report or give other details Thursday, saying it might jeopardize investigations. He said the detainees posed a "serious threat" to security and their arrests were based on cooperation with foreign intelligence agencies.
"This is a very good wake-up call for us because the playground for terrorists is no longer just one nation. The whole world is their playground," he said.
The suspects include students at a Malaysian university in Gombak, said Syed Ibrahim. He urged the government to either charge or release them.
A Malaysian who was among the 50 initially arrested identified the Syrian preacher as Aiman Al Dakkak, who has lived in Malaysia with his family since 2003. His son, Mohamed Hozifa, in his 20s, was also among the 10 detainees.
Aiman, in his 50s, came to Malaysia to pursue his second Ph.D. in Islamic studies and also teaches part time at a private university, said Muhamad Yunus Zainal Abidin, who was released several hours after being detained.
Aiman gave regular religious classes but did not advocate terrorism to his students, he said.
"In Islam, there is jihad but this kind of jihad — bombings — Aiman condemns it," Muhamad Yunus said. "He is against terrorism. ... He always told us that is not the way of Islam."
Aiman studied in Pakistan as a teenager and worked at a Karachi university before moving to Malaysia, he said.
The U.S. recently issued a travel advisory for eastern Sabah state on Borneo island, warning that criminal and terrorist groups could be plotting attacks there. Malaysia dismissed the alert, saying the area was safe. Hishammuddin said the recent arrests were unrelated to that warning.
Over the past decade, Malaysian authorities have held more than 100 militant suspects, mainly alleged members of the al-Qaida-linked Southeast Asian network Jemaah Islamiyah, blamed for attacks including the 2002 bombing on the Indonesian island of Bali that killed 202 people.
Most were released after being held for years in a northern prison center. Authorities say they were rehabilitated and no longer posed a threat. None was ever charged.
Associated Press writers Eileen Ng and Sean Yoong contributed to this report.
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