Malaysian cult members convicted of treason
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- A Malaysian court has convicted 19 members of an Islamic cult of treason for plotting an armed revolt to overthrow the government.
Although sentencing arguments have not been heard, the cult members face life imprisonment or death by hanging.
The al-Ma'unah sect triggered a huge security scare in Malaysia, when members posing as army officers in July 2000 stole an extensive cache of weapons.
They killed two hostages in a stand-off with security forcves before surrendering.
Although the group is believed to have been forcibly disbanded, the U.S. government has barred all al-Ma'unah members from traveling there.
The cult's leader, Mohamed Amin Mohamed Razali did not speak in his defense during the 15-month trial.
Mohamed Amin, a former soldier, convinced followers that they were protected by mystical powers.
Each defendant was found guilty of waging war against the king, Malaysia's constitutional monarch.
"The other accused have clearly pointed to Mohamed Amin as the man who was responsible in waging a war to topple the government in the name of jihad," or holy war, the court's Judge Zulkefli said, the Associated Press news agency reported.
Posing as army officers, the sect members bluffed their way past guards at two armories in northern Malaysia, stealing more than 100 assault rifles, machine guns and rocket launchers.
Some members drove 350 kilometers (220 miles) south to Kuala Lumpur. There they attempted to fire a rocket at a brewery run by Danish beer-maker Carlsberg however, they were unable to operate the weapon.
Others were tracked to a jungle camp and surrendered after a four-day standoff with hundreds of police and soldiers, but not before killing two security personnel taken hostage.
Although 29 cult members were initially put on trial, 10 pleaded guilty to lesser charges and received 10-year prison terms. Two had their sentences reduced to seven years on appeal.
The episode catalyzed concern about the danger posed by Islamic extremists in Malaysia, a peaceful, predominantly Muslim country where a legal fundamentalist party scored big gains in elections in 1999.
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